Friday, August 23, 2013

color and light

I had seen that look before.  But never from the gardener.

Yesterday I ran across a CD I have not played for a long time.  And I don't know why. 

Color and Light
.  It combines two musical styles I enjoy.  Jazz and Stephen Sondheim's music.  Or, more accurately, several jazz giants (Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington, Holly Cole) have taken Sondheim themes and worked them into their particular jazz styles.

I slipped it into the computer and cranked up the speakers to Mexico neighborhood volume.  And reveled in the sound.  Barely noticing the gardener was trying to clean up the garden. 

My experience is that these cross-over concepts albums -- especially of these two genres -- are seldom successful.  For good reason.  Show tunes come from a completely different tradition than jazz.  The product often comes across as Julie Andrews tarted up as Ella Fitzgerald.

But that is not true for this album.  Sondheim's careful harmonics are suited to jazz treatment.

Herbie Hancock's working of the title song is a perfect example.  The song is from Sunday in the Park with George -- a musical about the work of pointillist painter Georges Seurat.  It is a perfect match for Hancock's style.

Hancock has sifted out the basic theme and then gives it his characteristic Debussyesque lyricism -- retaining Sondheim's underlying punctuated percussion (evocative of pointillist brush strokes).  And he runs with it.  It is all color and light.

The piece is the best on the album.  Probably because I have always considered Seurat's strokes to be a visual manifestation of jazz.  Not jazz in its rather austere intellectualism.  But a far more approachable jazz where ideas remain abstract while still taking noticeable form.

The gardener did not agree with my taste.  His look was exactly the same as Herbert Greenleaf's in The Talented Mr. Ripley: "To my ear, jazz is just noise -- just an insolent noise."

I wish I could share the "Color and Light" track with you.  But I cannot find it online in a form that retains its subtly.  Instead, here is a far simpler Hancock version of "They Ask Me Why I Believe in You."



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