by Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
It’s as if a Mozart wind quintet traveled in time to the 20th Century and returned home with a folder full of standards, Pop, and then tossed in a piece from the Baroque period, a Tchaikovsky, and a Bartok. There is something intriguing, something warm, something delightful about hearing these marvelous tunes played so delicately and so precisely.
The Album and the Artists
Wayne Alpern struck gold with this album, Jukebox. He is a composer, arranger, historian known for taking Jazz and employing classical discipline and technique. Performing Alpern’s arrangements are Gretchen Pusch on flute, Gerard Reuter on oboe, Benjamin Fingland on clarinet, Karl Kramer-Johansen on French horn, and Adrian Morejon on bassoon. Collectively, the artists are the Dorian Wind Quintet.
There are 20 twenty tracks in all with no one track longer than 4:13. Obviously, they are not expounding on the themes in a Jazz way but are, rather, a pristine displaying the beauty of the simple melodies. Still, the layering of the five parts is extraordinary. If George Gershwin bridged the worlds of Jazz and Classical, then Wayne Alpern is the bridge keeper.
The Opening of the Abum
Lerner & Loewe’s (I’ve Grown) Accustomed to Her Face leads off the album and then moves quickly into Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are. Before you get settled into the Jazziness of it all, they pull out a Bartok Chorale, just to keep things honest.
Here’s the cleverness of the track-listing: in just the first three tracks, we are moved from the melancholic and reflective with that beautiful oboe of Gerard Reuter and warm horn of Karl Kramer-Johansen to the sweet (not in a bad way) rhapsodic flute of Gretchen Pusch to the moving and pensive Bartok Chorale with the harmonious and moving chorus of all five of the quintet.
Alpern described it all so well.
“Here are familiar tunes, neighborhood friends from our own musical backyards. What’s new is how they are handled, elevating the everyday into the extraordinary. The Dorians are musical magicians, snake charming the cherished from the common place. These are gems extracted from nearby soil, glittering specks of sound culled from the canyon of our collective imagination.”
And together, Alpern and the Dorians do exactly that.
Pop to Show Tunes to Jazz to Classical
From Pop tunes like Rodgers & Hart’s Blue Moon to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and Joni Mitchell’s Send in the Clowns to the Beatles’ Penny Lane and Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend, Alpern and the Dorians add a nobility to the catchiness of the originals. Those endearing singles that were heard on every radio for decades have new life breathed into them from old instruments and techniques. They are not only charming; they are intriguing. Penny Lane, as you might suspect, is especially interesting and captivating.
The show tunes and movie songs like Downtown Abbey, Harold Arlen’s Over the Rainbow, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s A Wonderful Guy, Do-Re-Mi, and Surrey with the Fringe on Top, Rodgers & Hart’s Have You Met Miss Jones, and Alan Menken’s Beauty and the Beast are rendered so beautifully in the Classical Wind Quintet format.
It has to be said that Over the Rainbow (I admit, the song always makes me teary-eyed) is treated so exquisitely. The slight change of key is haunting. That piece alone is worth the price of admission.
Jazz tunes and old classics like Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, Charlie Parker’s Ornithology, Rodgers & Hart’s Blue Moon, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s A Wonderful Guy are wonderful in themselves. The rhythms are not lost and the melodies are handled with respect, if not reverence. They are, one and all, wonderfully rendered.
Classical pieces and classically-inspired pieces include Handel Allegro (from Handel’s Concerto Grosso in G Major), Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Borodin on Broadway (adapted for the play Kismet), and the afore-mentioned Bartok Chorale. One would think that these pieces provided a safe haven for the Dorian Wind Quartet but, truth be told, they are equally at home from Borodin to the Beatles and all points in between. They lack nothing and, given Alpern’s remarkable arrangements, they have a clear and marvelous path to follow.
Wayne Alpern has blessed (yes, I said blessed) us with splendid arrangements of those amazing originals. From ballets to Broadway to Beatles, the pieces all strike right to the heart. The artistry of the performers is right on and the arrangements are simply priceless.