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Crosswinds: Classical & Jazz by Leanne Rees

There has always been a good deal of classical/jazz crossover going on over the years, but it is notable that the musicians who seem to excel at both genres are primarily jazz players. Fine classical albums from Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Hubert Laws, Eddie Daniels, Fred Hersch, Victor Feldman and others demonstrate this very clearly. On the other hand, the number of classical artists who have made quality jazz albums is pretty much restricted to André Previn, if we discount quasi-jazz performances by Yehudi Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway. There is another contribution to this cross-pollination, however, namely jazz-oriented or jazz-influenced writing by ‘serious' composers which has produced quite a body of work since George Gershwin premiered Rhapsody in Blue with Paul Whiteman's orchestra and Igor Stravinsky wrote for Woody Herman. This part of the genre is flourishing currently, with Wayne Shorter, and Paquito D'Rivera writing ‘classical' compositions and groups such as Imani Winds featuring them along with Ellington, Lalo Schifrin and Josephine Baker.

Grammy-Nominated Pianist Leanne Rees has turned to another rich period of genre overlap for her most recent recording-- the early twentieth century. Best known for championing women composers, Rees finds several women who have contributed jazz-influenced compositions to the repertoire: Margaret Bonds, Valerie Capers, and Mary Lou Williams. Bonds, the first black woman composer at Julliard, based her "Troubled Waters" on the Spiritual form, particularly the song that came to be know as "Wade In The Water." Capers has divided her time between jazz performance as a pianist--appearing on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz program--and extended composition. Her "Blues for the Duke" and "A Taste of Bass" have a strong improvisational quality. Mary Lou Williams is, of course, well known in jazz history. Lees has chosen a piece of her that pays tribute to two other legends "The Duke & The Count."

Digging further for appropriate repertoire, Rees has gone further back in time for one of Scott Joplin's lesser known--therefore not overdone-compositions. "Solace: A Mexican Serenade" is low-key although not particularly Mexican in flavor; ragtime doesn't wander far stylistically. Gershwin's jazz-flavored writing is well-known. Rees again, wisely, has sought out "Two Waltzes" that have not been heard too often. Also new is the Ellington composition "Clothed Woman," which also has an improvisational feel. More strictly compositional in nature is a three-part piece by French composer Francis Poulenc. Known as "half bad boy, half monk," Poulenc was part of a group of young composers known as Les Six and an associate of expressionist artists such as Jean Cocteau. This group was more oriented toward the contemporary French music hall than what was coming across the Atlantic, but the sensibilities are curiously parallel and the piece fits Rees' program nicely. Her own piece, "Funky Tango," slipped modestly into the middle of the program, shows that she has absorbed the idiom well enough to compose within it.

To round out the program Rees comes forward in time but returns to a woman composer. Seeking a way to tie together a very diverse group of selections, Rees approached Marian McPartland and commissioned her to write a piece that concludes the recording as well as Rees' recitals of this material. Again taking an improvisational approach, McPartland found recollections of her life speaking to her from the music, leading to her calling the piece "Life Notes."

McPartland's piece forms a fine conclusion to the set but it is Rees who is the glue binding it all together. She executes all these pieces with technical surefootedness, sensitivity of touch and attention to detail. More importantly, she has taken the time and effort to add the role of musicologist to that of performer, and to do the research that has unearthed these pieces. She is to be congratulated.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Leanne Rees
  • CD Title: Crosswinds: Classical & Jazz
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Fleur De Son
  • Tracks: Clothed Woman (Duke Ellington); Trois Pieces: I Pastorale II Toccata III Hymn (Francis Poulenc); Troubled Water (Margaret Bonds); Funky Tango (Leanne Rees); Blues for the Duke, A Taste of Bass (Valerie Capers); The Duke & The Count (Mary Lou Williams); Solace: A Mexican Serenade (Scott Joplin); Two Waltzes (Gershwin); Life Notes (Marian McPartland)
  • Musicians: Leanne Rees (piano)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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