Jazz: The L.A Treasures Project

Jazz: The L.A Treasures Project
Singapore-based cellist Qin Li-Wei

Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Capri Records/ ****

The treasures referenced in the name of this album are singers Ernie Andrews, 86, and Barbara Morrison, a mere stripling at 62. Put them together with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, founded in 1985 by drummer Jeff Hamilton, bassist John Clayton and saxophonist Jeff Clayton, and you have a lovely, relaxed big band outing which harks back to the heyday of the 1940s and 1950s.

Here are the big, bold brassy numbers you would expect from a big band: Apt opening track I Love Being Here With You, for instance, features satiny saxophones duelling with silky trumpets.

Morrison's 21/2-octave voice is showcased in four tracks. Exactly Like You shows off her playful side, her girlish flirtation reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald's elfin phrasings in lighter pop trifles. Fever gives her range free rein, going from a smoky lower register to higher bluesy yelps.

Andrews is one of those jazz octogenarians (a la Tony Bennett and Barbara Cook) whose voices weather the years astonishingly well. From bluesy belting in The Jug And I to gentle crooning in I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, his supple voice dips and swells effortlessly.

While singers usually take the spotlight, the orchestra is no slouch. There are some standout instrumental solos. Look out especially for pianist Tamir Hendelman's lyrical work in Hat's Dance, in which the band is so restrained it sounds like an intimate ensemble rather than a full-bore outfit, and Jeff Clayton's muted alto flute intro in Goodbye Porkpie Hat, well matched with his brother John's bowing on his bass.

Lush and laidback, this live recording is a very satisfying outing indeed for big band fans.

Historical classics
APR 6009 (2 CDs)/ *****

Cuban-American pianist Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) found fame and celebrity only late in his illustrious career. The Decca recordings of his last decade find a tired and sadly worn-out virtuoso, so the reissue of his first four LP recordings from the early 1950s are a boon. These reveal an artist in his prime.

The first disc comprises shorter solo works, including idiomatic Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Liszt. His close identification with the Hispanic music of Granados, Falla, Albeniz and Lecuona is endearing, and those who yearn for prestidigitation will have much to enjoy in Saint-Saens' Etude In The Form Of A Waltz and Moszkowski's En Automne, unabashed showpieces he delighted in.

Bolet's 1953 recording of Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony, conducted by Thor Johnson on the Remington label, was the first commercial recording of this now favourite piece. Despite a cut in the first movement cadenza, this reading stands the test of time through its magisterial sweep and emotional heft, with little of the banging which invariably accompanies Prokofiev. The four Chopin Scherzos, mercurial and playful in his hands, complete this invaluable anthology.

Qin Li-wei, cello et al Yong Siew Toh
Conservatory Orchestra/Jason Lai Cello Classics 1031/****½

This is the first commercial recording by Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra, presently led by Britain-born Chinese conductor Jason Lai. The obvious attraction is an excellent live recording of Brahms' Double Concerto In A Minor (Op. 102), with violinist Qian Zhou and cellist Qin Li-wei, respective department heads, in starring roles.

There is an obvious chemistry going on, with each voice exerting itself yet blending into a harmonious whole.

The first movement's opening cadenza is breathtaking in that it immediately captures attention, while the gentle unison playing in the slow movement is beautifully judged. The Hungarian-styled Rondo finale swaggers ever so inexorably to a chorus of cheers.

Almost completely obscure is the Double Cello Concerto by HungarianJewish composer Emanuel Moor (1863-1931), a conservatively romantic work composed for the stellar husbandand-wife cello pairing of Pablo Casals and Guilhermina Suggia.

Even if its four movements are not as memorable as the Brahms piece, there is a lot to be enjoyed in its lyricism and tightly knit writing for the instruments, helmed by Qin and British cellist Sebastian Comberti. This unusual coupling is well worth exploring.

This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.

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