Courtesy: Blue Engine Records
The realms of visual and musical arts are two completely different worlds. One creates pleasure for audiences through the eyes and the other does so through the ears. That being the case, it makes sense that attempts by anyone to bridge the two mediums have been rare throughout each realm’s modern history. Early last month though, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra built that bridge with their new studio recording. Aptly titled Jazz And Art, the 10-song album presents a series of compositions that are inspired by a select group of visual artists and their works. That concept builds the foundation for the 55-minute recording and will be addressed more in-depth shortly. The arrangements themselves are just as noteworthy as the album’s concept, and will be addressed a little later. The record’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be addressed later. Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of the recording. All things considered, they make this new effort from the group a piece that will appeal to fans of the musical and visual arts alike.
Jazz And Art, the latest full-length studio recording from Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is a work that will unite lovers of the visual and musical arts. That is due in part to the concept at the heart of the album. The concept behind the album is the union of the two realms through the creation of songs inspired by a group of visual artists and their works. It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but is in fact a very smart move. By creating compositions inspired by artists and their works, the record serves as an entrance into the world of visual art for those who might otherwise have never taken the first step into that world. It will inspire those listeners to conduct their own research into the artists and paintings in question, which can in turn potentially lead to a new interest and discussions on the noted artists and their works. The same applies to art lovers who perhaps have never ventured into the jazz realm, opting instead to take in the landscapes painted with brushes instead of with instruments. Regardless of whether it influences one side, the other, or both, the concept of marrying musical and visual art proves to be a smart move, considering the gap that exists between the two worlds. It creates a strong foundation for this record. Building on that foundation and making it stronger are the arrangements themselves.
The arrangements that make up the body of Jazz And Art are important to note in part because of their diversity. From start to end, listeners get something different with each composition. There are blues elements featured in the album, as well as big band influences and even some African influence. The whole thing opens with a trio of works influenced by artist Stuart Davis. Interestingly enough, Davis was himself inspired by jazz in creating his works during the 1940s and 50s. All three works are fitting considering the paintings from which they rose. ‘Mellow Pad,’ with its varied instrumentation – muted trumpet, drums, piano and saxophones – is just as active even in its subtleties as Davis’ painting. ‘Garage Lights,’ meanwhile presents a rather blues-gospel tinged composition that, when set alongside Davis’ painting, conjures thoughts of perhaps New Orleans. That is because New Orleans is itself a port town and is steeped in blues and gospel influences. ‘New York’ meanwhile does its own positive job of capturing the essence of Davis’ painting by the same name. The light piano line and time keeping echo quite well, the energy exuded in the painting’s colors and lines. What’s more, it also echoes (on a completely different note) the works of the one and only Vince Guaraldi at times and even Henry Mancini with its horns. The compositions influenced by painter Winslow Homer (who was known largely for his marine landscapes) offer their own intrigue. ‘Homer’s Blues’ conjures thoughts of certain songs from the West Side Story soundtrack with its hard bop sound. The painting that the song’s energy seems to echo is “Snap The Whip,” which he painted in 1872. The painting features a group of young boys playing a game, aptly titled “Snap The Whip.” The happiness on the boys’ faces embodies the painting’s purpose of showing the possibilities of the future at the time and the happiness that those thoughts brought about. This is all of course just this critic’s interpretation. Obviously jazz was not a thing at all in the late 1800s, but, the positive energy in the painting and the song seem to work well together. Meanwhile, “Homer’s Waltz” mirrors so many of his noted marine landscapes with its gentle, reserved melody. ‘Air Earth Fire Water,’ with its cross of Afro-Cuban instrumentation and American jazz elements does well to illustrate the story of the Orishas, which are – in much African lore – emissaries of God. According to the lore, the Orishas control the forces of nature and everything that mankind does. Many paintings of the Orishas have been painted over the years, depicting each being and what its role. It stands out quite starkly from its fellow arrangements just as much as they do from one another. All of the arrangements noted here and the rest of the record’s works come together to paint their own vivid picture that when considered along with the record’s approach, makes the album that much more enjoyable for audiences. It is not the last of the album’s most notable elements. Its production rounds out its most important elements.
The production that went into Jazz And Art is important to note because of how much is going on within each of the songs. ‘Air, Earth, Fire, Water’ is just one of the songs that serves to illustrate this aspect. The multitudinous instrumentation here means that there is quite a bit going on, but those behind the boards managed to capture it all. The Afro-Cuban drums, the horns and every other instrument gets its own time in the limelight, with no one part overpowering the other at any point in the song. ‘Blue Twirl,’ which comes almost halfway through the record’s run, is another example of the importance of the album’s production. There is just as much going on here as in the album’s other entries, but in a completely unexpected fashion. There are so many dynamic changes, as well as elements and moods throughout. Again, those behind the glass managed to capture the full essence of that diversity. The end result is a song that is one of the album’s best works. Simply put, it is clear in listening through each of the album’s 10 songs that much time and effort was put into balancing each song’s arrangement and related instrumentation for the maximum impact. The result of that work is a record that, from start to end, is just as impressive for its production as for its concept and varied arrangements. All things considered, they make Jazz And Art a work that will certainly appeal just as much to fans of the jazz world as to art lovers.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s new album Jazz And Art, recorded with Wynton Marsalis is a strong new effort from the organization. That is due in part to its approach. The album merges the worlds of musical and visual arts for a whole that will serve as an educational tool as well as an entertainment tool. The varied arrangements do just as much to make the album engaging and entertaining as its very concept. The record’s production shows a lot of time and effort was put in to make sure the finished production would appeal to every listener. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the album’s presentation. All things considered, they make Jazz And Art its own wonderful musical work of art that will appeal to listeners from the worlds of Jazz and art. More information on Jazz And Art is available online now along with all of the latest news from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra at:
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