The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP), a 55+ piece jazz-symphonic orchestra dedicated to bringing together audiences of diverse backgrounds through multi-genre projects. It was founded by Orbert Davis trumpeter, composer as well as the Philharmonic's conductor and artistic director along with Mark Ingram, musician, composer, producer and performer. The CJP describes its mission, "Chicago Jazz Philharmonic combines jazz and classical to create new, evolved, “third stream” musical experiences at home and around the world. CJP's third stream approach unites diverse perspectives, expanding the potential of what music brings to life for students, musicians, audiences, and communities."
It emerged out of educational activities by Davis and Ingram, along with an invitation to Davis This performance marked the first time for a resident Chicago Jazz artist to to “think big” when planning his appearance at the 2004 Chicago Jazz Festival, and he did being accompanied by a 55-piece jazz orchestra. It has engaged in a number of multi-genre projects including "Havana Blues," a collaboration with River North Dance that originally was performed in April 2013. Prior to it, Davis and River North Dance Director Frank Chavez visited Cuba in October 2012 where they interacted with Cuban musicians and be inspired by their talents and personalities.
The seven-part "Havana Blue Suite" is the core of this recording, and was recorded on April 23, 2013. Obviously we only have the music and not the accompanying dance that was performed that evening. It is performed by the CJP's Chamber Ensemble, a 19 piece big band that includes a string quartet along with brass, reeds and rhythm section. The Suite opens with the atmospheric "Sabor" with the strings prominent along with Latin percussion before the Spanish tinged theme is expressed with a delightful interplay between the horns and strings. the orchestration is lush and gorgeous with stately piano and trumpet. The second part "Congri" opens with congas and percussion leading into a tropical Afro-Cuban groove that underlies piano and trumpet choruses against a marvelous orchestration.
Pianist Leandro Lopez Varady opens "Solteras" in a romantic mood joined by some lovely fluegelhorn with the strings joining at the coda of this segment, The morose feel of "El Malecon" is established by sober, pensive string quartet section that the horns briefly join into. It is followed by the one segment not composed by Davis, Ernesto Lecuona's lovely "Al Fin Te Vi," a duet between clarinet and bass clarinet. The mood changes with the spirited mambo, "Havana @ 12" with high energy trumpet and soaring horn riffs. The suite concludes with a brief cha cha, "Orlando's Walk (reprise)."
There are four studio performances starting with "Chega De Saudade" from Jobim and Moraes, the performance of which is centered around Varady's electric piano and the leader's flugelhorn. It is followed by Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" on an excellent rendition of this classic. Some excellent solos and ensemble work here as elsewhere. Davis' "Seraphim" is a lovely, dreamy performance with lovely fluegelhorn and electric piano, and followed by a lengthier rendition of the stately "Orlando's Walk" to complete this album. While there are some fine solos, what stands out even more is the writing, orchestrations and the ensemble playing but in several of the suite sections that sound fully (or almost fully) composed) and more jazz-oriented Afro-Cuban jazz segments and numbers.
The music on "Havana Blue" is captivating, energetic and at other times reflective and atmospheric resulting in this wonderful CD. Incidentally proceeds from the CD sales will support the artistic and educational programs of the CJP and for more information visit, www.chijazzphil.org.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is "Orlando's Walk" from "Havana Blue."