Tuesday, October 29, 2019

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

I'm always on the edge when I'm sent to review a work that's jazz-inspired, because I don't have a feeling for jazz. The music doesn't appeal to me, it doesn't make intuitive sense to me as classical does, and I don't know its features or varieties.

So here we have a work inspired by three sets of pairs of collaborators in popular or jazz music, all of whom the now-venerable composer, David Amram, knew when he was a young musician in New York in the 1950s. I knew the work wasn't going to directly copy or transmit its dedicatees' music, just vaguely suggest the inspiration, but I figured I ought to tutor myself a little in what Amram had in mind.

First set, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, no problem. I'm not expert on either, but I know their music and what it sounds like. I even like some of it.

Second set, Lester Young and Billie Holiday. I'd heard of Billie Holiday, but I drew a blank on Lester Young. He turns out to be a saxophonist. I found a set of a dozen songs that the two of them recorded together around 1940. Only one of them was familiar to me, "Night and Day," which I know only because Allan Sherman guyed it in the 1960s. I listened to this version, knowing what I would get because I recalled having heard Billie Holiday before. Oh god: I know she's supposed to be some kind of sublime genius, but I can't abide this. Delete long rant on the subject here. At least Amram's invocation of it isn't that bad.

Third set, Machito Grillo and Celia Cruz. Who? Online sources suggest they invented Afro-Cuban jazz. Then I read what I wrote about Amram's earlier piece honoring Chano Pozo, and it suggests he invented Afro-Cuban jazz. Maybe they all did. Anyway, listening to bits of them confirms that I've heard Afro-Cuban jazz before, and also confirms what I thought I knew about its rhythms. It can be striking, but a little of it goes a very, very long way. But that's settled.

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