Mobtown Modern delivers sizzling jazz version of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"
For me, much of the fun was discovering how Brenzel managed to preserve the rich flavor of the "Rite," the familiar harmonic tang and rhythmic punch. If anything, he may have taken on too much -- his arrangement is quite longer than the original, adding up to an hour and change. There were a couple times during the performances when I felt the coolness factor starting to wear off, the tautness starting to loosen, but only a couple., and the feeling quickly passed
In the end, this turned out to be high-class jazz (and some rock), a brilliant combination of musical imagination, technical talent and chutzpah.
The Frederick-based Brenzel did not merely transcribe notes from symphony orchestra to a 17-piece ensemble of saxes, trumpets, trombones, guitar, piano, bass and drums to create his "Rite of Swing." He treated the 14 titled passages in Stravinsky's through-composed score as
Several sections, notably "Spring Rounds," "Mystic Circles of the Young Girls" and "Ritual Action of the Elders," really hit the spot. The effect was uncanny, at once fully evocative of the "Rite" we know, and yet totally fresh in color and atmosphere. The very end of the piece -- the unexpected, wispy woodwind solo just before the last whomping chord -- didn't translate so well into the new version; I wanted something with a bit more impact and finality.
But that was a minor thing, especially given all the energy pouring out from the Mobtown Jazz Orchestra. (You might spot those same players in the Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band. Brenzel, who recently retired from that group, joined in on sax for the "Rite" finale.) There might have been one off-kilter entrance, but the sheer tightness of the playing was still very impressive, the expressive force behind it even more so.
A recording is planned. It should be a knockout.
Meanwhile, all you folks at symphony orchestras worrying about how to engage audiences and liven up concert formats -- here's a pitch: Program the original "Rite of Spring" on the first half, then put Brenzel's version on the second. Such a double-barrel roof-raiser sure sounds awesome to me.
PHOTO BY KRISTIN COOKE