CSO goes Jazzical and Gets Scorched: Part II

Previously, I began discussing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring jazz-inspired works.  You can review Part I of this article to read about Three Black Kings by Duke Ellington, the first work on the program.

Considering these kinds of works are rarely performed by symphony orchestras, I thought it warranted breaking this story into two parts.  As I pointed out before, how often do you get see an orchestra performing with John Scofield and John Patitucci at the same time?  While Three Black Kings was more traditional sounding, in the sense of integrating the big band into the orchestration, SCORCHED, Mark-Anthony Turnage, had a completely different musical character.

A Bit About Turnage

“If had to do that desert island thing, it would be half split between jazz and classical music” ~ Mark-Anthony Turnage

Prior to the performance of SCORCHED, I hadn’t heard any music composed by Turnage. But now that I have, I am eager to hear more.  The program notes describe Turnage as an “anomaly” within the classical music world, neither writing serious classical music, nor being a true jazz composer.  Instead, Turnage loves both sides equally.

Turnage, now serving as the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the CSO, first became fascinated with Jazz while attending the Royal College of Music in England.  When Turnage was first introduced to Jazz, he led a fragmented life composing atonal music, but absorbed as much jazz as he could until both musical styles merged into a single musical vocabulary.

Turnage was obsessed with Miles Davis, which is where Scofield enters the picture.  Scofield had a stint with Davis composing songs and played on three of Davis’s recordings: Star People, You’re Under Arrest, and Decoy.  Turnage and Scofield met in the mid-nineties when Turnage was searching for performers for Blood on the Floor, a work for jazz trio and large ensemble.  It was this turn of events that inspired Turnage to hit upon the idea of arranging one of Scofield’s compositions to be played as an encore at the 1996 premiere.

The two met for the first time in the mid-nineties when Turnage was picking jazz players to participate in performances of Blood on the Floor, a nine-movement suite for jazz trio and large ensemble. As a way of thanking Scofield for taking part in Blood on the Floor, Turnage hit upon the idea of arranging one of Scofield’s compositions to be played as an encore at the 1996 premiere.  Turnage would continue to select Scofield works and arrange them…which eventually led to SCORCHED.

About SCORCHED

The title, suggested by Scofield’s drummer, makes short work of a subtle and complex process: SCofieldORCHestratED. SCORCHED is comprised of 16 movements, each with mixed orchestration. No movement is similar, but blends contemporary orchestral writing with jazz sonorities creating some interesting effects throughout the musical journey.

The program notes say the following:

The opening number, Make Me 1, and Kubrick are written for orchestra alone. Fat Lip 1 is just for pizzicato strings. The Nag is for jazz trio by itself. The rest are for various combinations-Away with Words cushions Scofield’s guitar with the full orchestra; Polo Towers is for jazz trio and thirteen players; Nocturnal Mission, which follows, is for guitar with nine players. The final Protocol pits jazz trio and alto saxophone against the full orchestra.

The effect is a seamless and fluid blending of the sounds of jazz trio, big band, and orchestra. Scofield’s tunes-which remain the main protagonist throughout-have been reinvented by Turnage, so that they are often several times longer than the originals. Scofield gave Turnage license to play around with tempo, to add long introductions and substantial codas-in effect, to improvise as a composer.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a work like this, but a came away from the concert wanting more.  Considering that concert was longer than the typical orchestral concert of two hours, I will take that as good thing. SCORCHED is a piece worth experiencing in live performance. Since this work is rarely performed, a good substitute might be the sound recording available for purchase.

All in all, this is a concert I will remember for some time.

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