Sunday, October 26, 2008

The blues-iest Rhapsody in Blue

"Portraits in Blue" by Marcus Roberts

This has to be the most raucous, the most bluesy, the most improvisational Rhapsody in Blue ever recorded. And not all of the best improvisation is by Marcus Roberts. Wailing clarinets and wandering trumpets abound. And it is all in a spirit of the original, so much so that I believe jazz-loving Gershwin would have approved.

All of Gershwin's original music is there, but much of it is taken at unusual tempos -- speeded up, slowed down or synchopated -- with many additional minutes of improvisation that actually fit with the original. I'm usually a traditionalist, so I wasn't sure I really wanted to hear a 28-minute Rhapsody in Blue, figuring it probably had a lot of filler. It doesn't. This is music that makes me smile.

Oh yes, there are also two additional pieces, which are very good. The James P. Johnson piece is NOT stride piano, which threw me for a loop. But it IS a sort of answer to Gershwin's Rhapsody. Written just 3 years after the Gershwin original, it is also a multi-themed bluesy 20-minute mini-symphony. And there are the I Got Rhytm variations, which are catchy and inventive. But Rhapsody is what you're buying here, and it may be the best one I've ever heard.

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