By John J. Puccio
First up on the program is Synconata, a work Whiteman debuted in 1924. In offering the commission to Sowerby, Whiteman requested something that would incorporate the typical American idioms of jazz, gospel, and folk in an orchestral setting and fit into what the bandleader called his “Revolutionary Concerts.” Because Sowerby never published a definitive edition of this work and several of the others, the disc rightfully calls the present arrangements world-premiere recordings.
There’s a good deal of jazz in Synconata, probably more so than we find in Gershwin, yet it all works in fine, high fashion. There is nothing gaudy, tacky, or showy about the music; it’s just a good combination of classical jazz and jazzy classical, with a profoundly rhythmic forward pulse. The band plays it with zeal and provides it with all the color it deserves.
In between the Whiteman commissions on the disc there are three Sowerby chamber works. The first is the Serenade in G Major for String Quartet from 1917, one of the composer’s first important pieces. It is here ably performed by the Avalon String Quartet. One can see why Whiteman a little later wanted Sowerby to write something specifically for him. The Serenade is not a serenade in the strictest sense, but it does impart a strong classical sense, along with a snappy vigor.
After that we hear the String Quartet in D minor (1923) with the Avalon Quartet and Tramping Tune for Piano and Strings (1917) with pianist Winston Choi, double-bassist Alexander Hanna, and the Avalon players. The D minor Quartet is a bit more serious than the earlier Serenade and considerably longer, placing it more strongly in the traditional classical genre. However, as it goes along, it opens up to a fluent, springy gait and a generally warm, affable cheerfulness. The little Tramping Tune is obviously a nod to World War I and marches along in hearty fashion.
Producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the music at Kennedy-King College, Chicago, Illinois in January 2020 and at Boutell Memorial Concert Hall, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois in January 2021. Cedille’s crackerjack team produces a sound that is the cat’s meow. It’s a snazzy combination of transparency, dynamics, ambience, air, wide frequency response, and naturalness. In other words, it’s a doozy and could hardly be better. Zowie!
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: