…with this 2LP release twenty five years after its was first issued may finally gain this excellent recording the accolades it undoubtably deserves.

Ronnie Scott’s Records / MW Productions RSMW001 (2LP set)

Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone); Peter Erskine (drums); Marc Johnson (bass); Joe Lovano (tenor saxophone); John Taylor (piano); Kenny Wheeler (trumpet & flugelhorn)
London Symphony Orchestra

Recorded 28th & 29th July 1997

This is a quite remarkable album that brings disparate elements into a cohesive whole. At first glance it looks like another of those offerings that bring classical music and jazz together in a programme of original music (so nothing familiar to hang on to there) and featuring a jazz septet that appears to have loaned courtesy of ECM Records (or to give the credit where due Lovano was with Blue Note at the time, Marc Johnson with Verve and Brecker was recording for Impulse!).

If too the idea of hearing the assemble septet as standalone ‘supergroup’ sounds appealing, then surprisingly Mendoza seeks to dispel the notion of that being a good idea by writing for the musicians in such a way that they all have room to contribute and do so without compromising their own individual voices.

There is never a sense of anything but an organic blend of orchestra and soloist, nothing is contrived or forced, just strong melodies and interesting orchestrations that seeks improvisation to bring an additional depth to the written score.

If ‘Impromtu’ introduces the London Symphony Orchestra and Mendoza’s tonal palette for the music, then ‘Wheaton Sky’ is pure genius. The two pieces run together as if always written to do so, and so wrapped up in the music when listening the listener is suddenly aware of John Abercrombie’s solo that is quietly nestled within the strings.

Such moments truly indicate how seamless, in the right hands, the music unfurls. Listening with headphones, the guitar improvisation sounded spontaneous but as if should have been there all along. The same can said of Kenny Wheeler whose playing on this track is sublime.

‘Ambivalence’ is another moment when the tenor saxophone and orchestra walk hand in hand to create a moment of luxury that borders on an indulgent pleasure, while ‘Sanctus’ takes on a more serious leaning. The orchestration here is very delicate and subtle, yet still Abercrombie and Wheeler are heard to fine effect, and pianist John Taylor’s playing on the title track is a model of good taste and inventiveness.

This feeling of that everything is down tastefully should not imply that the music is oversentimental or easy listening. In fact, the opposite is true and attentive listening brings great rewards.

Perversely this is an album that has been in and out of print since its original release in 1999 and the first time the music has been available on vinyl. Why this should be the case is mystifying as this is music that has a grace and beauty that is deeply satisfying, and perhaps with this 2LP release twenty five years after its was first issued may finally gain this excellent recording the accolades it undoubtably deserves.