x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Caribbean Rhapsody, featuring saxophonist James Carter

Unlike other classical attempts to exploit the traits of folk genres, and ending in pastiche, this tribute really works.

James Carter (saxophone), Roberto Sierra (composer), Giancarlo Guerrero (cond), Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, Regina Carter (violin), Akua Dixon String Quartet
Decca
****

The perils of combining jazz with classical music are great, and for every Rhapsody in Blue there are hundreds of clunky, stilted jazz arrangements for orchestra.

Consequently, combining the meticulously notated forms of symphonic works with the swing and improvisation of be-bop or blues requires more than mere skill with a score: the trust a composer must place in a performer to come up with the goods if given free rein is considerable.

When it works out, though, as on this album, the result is musical fireworks, and the success here must in large part be down to the fact that this album is the culmination of 10 years of collaboration between the fabulous Detroit jazz saxophonist James Carter and the Puerto Rican composer and Cornell professor Roberto Sierra.

The pair reputedly began working together when Sierra heard Carter play and was astounded by his technique, inspiring him to write his Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra, the first work on the album. Since then, the musical conversation between them has resulted in a honed style and a rapport that is obvious in the seamless transitions between notated music and improvisation - it is impossible to tell when the mellifluous workings of Carter's soprano and tenor saxophones are his own creations or those of Sierra.

Carter's versatility, too, is explored in every way in the concerto, offering a true showcase, from the gentle, tender ripples of the second movement to the reckless haring of the third, titled Playful.

The second piece, the Caribbean Rhapsody of the CD's title, is an enjoyable, rollicking tour through the music of the Caribbean. Again, there is a very fine line between tribute and parody, and Sierra treads it carefully. So many classical attempts to exploit the traits of folk genres end in pastiche at best and caricature at worst.

Sierra's work is effective because, while he deconstructs the distinctive vernacular rhythms and tonalities of the culture, Carter brings it all back together with his loosely agile meanderings and syncopations, introducing the element of chance and life that is so essential to both American jazz and its musical relatives in the Caribbean.