The Los Angeles Jazz Institute's "Contemporary Concepts" is a four-day celebration of West Coast big bands. But the feature event in Thursday's opening-night performance at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel was only peripherally related to the West Coast.
Not that there was anything to complain about in the presentation, which featured trumpeter Bobby Shew with an 18-piece orchestra performing the complete set of music from the classic Miles Davis and Gil Evans interpretation of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."
The music's subtle textures of tone and flowing layers of rhythm were reminders of the potent, if indirect, impact that Evans' orchestration style -- via the "Porgy and Bess" charts as well as his earlier work on Davis' "Birth of the Cool" recordings -- had on West Coast musicians.
The performances were first-rate, with Shew's yeoman effort in playing the solos for the entire album in one continuous sweep nothing less than extraordinary. Tailoring his lines and sound to fit in the Davis style, he managed to accomplish the task without direct simulation, instead bringing considerable inventiveness to the mix. Despite minimal rehearsal, the ensemble playing was stellar, superbly rendering the complexities of the score's close harmonies and occasionally disjunct rhythms.
The real star of the evening, however, was Evans' brilliant re-imagining of the music, which was assembled in a sequence matching the original opera. Heard live, it revealed even more than the recording how effectively he captured the core emotional progression of the story. And one can only wonder why this remarkable transformation of a classic American work is not performed more frequently.
`Contemporary Concepts: Celebrating the West Coast Big Band Sound'
Who: Featured performers today include Lennie Niehaus, Duane Tatro, the Bill Holman Band. Performers on Sunday include the bands of Steve Huffsteter, Bob Florence and Kim Richmond
Where: Four Points Sheraton Hotel, 9750 Airport Blvd., L.A.
When: Today and Sunday. Concerts and panels from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: $10-$20 for individual events
Contact: (562) 985-7065