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JAZZ REVIEWS : Orchestra's Quest for Harmonic Blend

November 03, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Is it really possible to blend "classical traditions with a language whose roots are jazz"? Jack Elliott and the New American Orchestra seem to think so, but the evidence produced at the ensemble's Sunday night concert at the Wadsworth Theatre suggested that the quest may have quixotic, rather than harmonic, overtones.

The works included in the program (which was fairly typical of the orchestra's repertoire) defined part of the problem. Music which is neither good "classical" nor good jazz can hardly be expected to produce a good blend of anything.

Larry Cansler's "Fanfare for Orchestra," for example, revealed its Copland inspiration in every off-beat accent and open fifth. And what substance it otherwise may have had was largely diminished by the ensemble's thin and tinny string sound.

"Deep Thought," by Dick Doerschuk, conjured up a few telling jazz moments, largely because of Warren Luening's lovely fluegelhorn playing, but in sum it was little more than a dance band ballad with string accompaniment.

Alan Broadbent's somewhat more purposeful "Songs From Home (Suite for Orchestra)," once past its shameless opening rip-off of the Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra," also had its intriguing sections. But, as with the Cansler piece, musical substance appeared less important than the need to prove that jazz-based composers can write effectively for symphony orchestra.

Fair enough, but surely the last three decades of motion picture and television scoring by composers ranging from Pete Rugolo and Ralph Burns to Pat Williams and Henry Mancini long ago made that point academic. Effective blending of "classical" and jazz elements simply has to have loftier goals, better material and, if the performance was any indication, more rehearsals.

A closing section of three pieces featuring pianist David Benoit playing his frothy pop jazz melodies may have helped draw an audience, but it demeaned the orchestra's image.

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