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Josephine Baker: A Life of Le Jazz Hot! by Imani Winds

Having reviewed two recitals by Imani Winds over the past year, it is a pleasure to receive their latest recording, the music from the first of these performances, their tribute to Josephine Baker (www. jazzreview.com/article/review-5040.html). I was fortunate to attend a gala performance of the work that launched the CD at Harlem's Apollo Theater, held June 3rd, Baker's 101st birthday. It was expanded from the show I caught at the University of Maryland as the quintet was not only supplemented by singer René Marie and percussionist Joseph Tompkins, but also by dancer Rachel Ashley, performing choreography by Christopher Huggins that included Baker's famous banana dance routine, and which added another important dimension to the multi-media presentation. The group hope to produce a DVD that will capture the show in its entirety. This recording, on the other hand, can only give us the music. Fortunately, it stands by itself.

Presented in a slightly different sequence from the live performances, the music consists of two suites, both illustrating aspects of Baker's life and work: "Portraits of Josephine" by flutist Coleman, and "La Belle Sirene Comme le Comedien" by the group's French horn player Jeff Scott, along with three of Baker's best known songs--including the show-stopper "Please Don't Touch My Tomatoes,"--arranged by Scott and performed with great gusto by vocalist René Marie. Executed flawlessly by the quintet, whose sound is supplemented by Tompkins as well as by extensive doubling--Coleman plays piccolo, flute and alto flute, Miriam Adam clarinet and bass clarinet, Toyin Spellman-Diaz English horn as well as oboe, and bassoonist Monica Ellis wields a mean soprano saxophone--the music is full of color, and soaked in the spirit of both Le Jazz Hot and early twentieth-century expressionism: Armstrong and Ellington via Stravinsky and Milhaud.

Strictly speaking, this is not jazz, but it is a major offering in the classical/jazz crossover genre that has been seeing more and more contributions recently, (even if jazzreview.com does not yet have a category for it!) The majority of these have tended to be by jazz players, the Marsalis brothers, Keith Jarrett and others, but recent releases by artists such as André Previn and Leanne Rees are beginning to restore the balance. Imani Winds are adding to this, performing and recording works by Paquito D'Rivera and Wayne Shorter; they are due to appear with Shorter at jazz festivals in Montreal, San Sebastian, Spain and Marciac, France this summer, as well as with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet at the Luzerne Chamber Music Festival. So the dialogue between jazz and ‘classical' or ‘serious' music, (or whatever it is called these days), is alive and well. And here is a great contribution from Imani Winds that jazz aficionados will certainly enjoy.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Imani Winds
  • CD Title: Josephine Baker: A Life of Le Jazz Hot!
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Koch International Classics
  • Musicians: Valerie Coleman (flutes, piccolo) Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe, English horn) Mariam Adam (clarinet, bass clarinet), Jeff Scott (French horn), Monica Ellis (bassoon, soprano saxophone)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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