Peter and the Wolf
The New England Jazz Ensemble was created in 1991 as a weekly rehearsal band and a forum for new compositions. It was founded by trumpeter Mike Jones; Walt Gwardyak, pianist and composer/arranger, has been the music director from the beginning. Compositions by Gwardyak, John Mastroianni, Jeff Holmes, JP Merz, and others form the band's book. The 16-piece big band has a loyal following and sells its music through on-line CD sales and downloads far and wide. A not-for-profit organization the NEJE commissions new work, does extensive concertizing and collaborates with music educators in public schools and universities to perpetuate the jazz art form.
What the Ensemble does here is a jazz take on Sergei Prokofiev's “Peter and the Wolf.” The New England Jazz Ensemble use Prokofiev's music to introduce folks to contemporary jazz, just like the original narrative and musical adaptation of the animal sounds served to interest young audiences in the classical music of the day. Jazz vocalist Giacomo Gates provided a fresh take of the libretto with his narration as the ensemble negotiates Walt Gwardyak's arrangement. The arrangement brings together a mix of a variety of jazz styles with specific instruments representing specific animals or the whole ensemble as Peter. It is a captivating performance that is a marvelously played gumbo of blues, salsa, cool jazz, bebop, big band jazz and more.
Jeff Holmes contributed the lively "Serge's Birds," based on several of Prokofiev's melodic lines which Holmes reset and arranged, as well as contributed the bright piccolo trumpet solo. John Mastroianni is featured on flute here. John Mastroianni also adapted and reset Prokofiev's melodic lines for "Power Serge," with its big band grooves. It features his alto sax solo along with Mike Leventhal's burly tenor sax solo. Mastroianni also contributed the lovely "Waltzin' With Wolves" (with trombonists Tim Atherton and Peter McEachern among those featured) while Holmes' original "Wolves" struts a bit as he growls on his trumpet on a performance that also includes an accordion solo from Gwardyak. Lisa LaDone impresses on baritone as part of the backing here.
Overall the music here isn't simply captivating, as there is much musical substance as well.
I received as a download from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379), although I made minor stylistic edits to that review. Here is a preview video of this recording.