A cello ensemble playing big band arrangements is an unusual concept, but cellist Matt Haimovitz and the ensemble Uccello are heard doing material from John McLaughlin and Ornette Coleman to Gershwin on “Meeting of the Spirits,” (Oxingale Productions). This very recent release is also a 2010 Grammy nominee as a Classical Crossover product. Haimovitz and fellow cellists handle a program of arrangements by David Sanford with guest appearances by guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Matt Wilson and the keyboards of Jan Jarczyk.
it is a fascinating collection of performances as soling cellos play against others riffing a bass melody line. Arrangements are often taken from solos on the original performances and the unusual setting makes the familiar sound new. Guitarist McLaughlin adds some of his exhilarating playing to the opening rendition of his “ Open Country Joy,” with the cello solos of Leanna Rutt and Haimovitz adding a celebratory tone. In thee notes, arranger sanford observes he tried to capture the flavor of the Birth of the Cool recordings in the arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson.” with a lovely solo from the leader and some nice pizzicato playing by Dominic Painchaud. Sanford credits John Zorn’s punk-thrash recording of Ornette Coleman’s “W.R.U.” as the inspiration for a performance that has spirited polyphonic solos as well as crisp drums from Matt Wilson. The rendition of John Lewis’ “Blues in A Minor,” is a duet between the pizzicato playing of Haimovitz and Dominic Painchaud, both plainly precisely and clear articulation of their ideas.
“ Meeting of the Spirits” is another John McLaughlin number with Haimovitz recreating McLaughlin’s original solo, while Amaryllis Jarczyk recreates Jan Hammer’s solo on the original recording. Their solos sandwich a Fender Rhodes solo by guest Jarczyk while Wilson ‘s drums propel the performance. It is followed by Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” written from his hospital bed with Haimovitz attempting to recreate the inflections of Johnny Hodges alto saxophone to honor him here on a lovely, sober performance. An original by Haimovitz and Uccello is “Triptych,” inspired by the works of an artist friend as well as jazz pianists Vijay Iyer and Nik Bartsch, which comes across as somewhat melodramatic. A lighter tone is heard on a rendition of the Gershwin standard “Liza,” inspired by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France with Haimovitz’s pizzicato work evoking Django Reinhardt. followed by the arco playing of Leanna Rutt whose enlivening playing is a homage to Stephane Grappelli followed by spirited ensemble playing.
The final performance is of Charles Mingus’ “ Haitian Fight Song,” which scores Booker Ervin’s tenor saxophone and Jaki Byard’s piano solo,” and is another fascinating performance as they capture much of the spirit of the original performance despite the very distinct instrumentation. The performances convey a range of musical flavors and emotions. This is a change of pace for listeners well worth exploring.
A publicist for this release sent me a review copy for this release.