The Kentucky Symphony Orchestra delivered again Sunday at Notre Dame Academy’s Carlisle Performing Arts Center in Park Hills.
KSO music director James R. Cassidy, self-confessed practitioner of the “culinary” method of programming, served up a blend of classical music and jazz – or was it jazz and classical music? – that went down easily with the Sunday afternoon crowd.
Primary ingredient was the Floodwall Jazz Quintet, a subsidiary group of the KSO, founded in 1999 to perform the classical/jazz “crossover” music of French composer Claude Bolling. Joining the Quintet – pianist Steve Mason, bassist Mike Sharfe, drummer Jim Leslie, flutist Susan Magg and guitarist Brian Deyo – were Hal Melia on saxophone, Tom Guth on cello and a chamber-sized KSO (34 players).
It was an inspiring, intriguing and tasty mix, which left no one unsatisfied.
The stage was set in a kind of arc, with the jazz artists on the left and the KSO curving around them from the right. The Steinway grand piano, provided by Willis Music Company, occupied one branch of the arc, with the rhythm section immediately to its right.
The first half of the concert was a Bolling sampler, beginning and ending with “Gracieuse” and “Sereine,” respectively, from his Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio. The opening “Gracieuse” was just that, graceful and melodic, a polite dialogue if you will, between the classic, even rhythms of the KSO and the swing time of pianist Mason and his colleagues. This was followed by “Espiègle” (“Playful,” “Mischievous”) from Bolling’s Suite No. 2 for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio. Flutist Magg put lots of “play” and vivacity into it, matching the antics of the ensemble note-for-note and providing a soulful solo interlude.
(As Cassidy pointed out in remarks to the audience, this Suite followed Bolling’s blockbuster Suite No. 1 for the same combination, which spent over ten years on Billboard magazine’s top 40 listings. Both suites were composed for flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and spurred “crossover” projects by other top classical artists, such as violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Yo Yo Ma.)
Guitarist Deyo followed with “Mexicaine” from Bolling’s Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Piano, an affecting movement with guitar and piano playing off each other to spellbinding effect -- and Leslie demonstrating, as he did throughout the concert, that he can do anything with a pair of sticks, beaters or brushes. It was cellist Guth’s turn in “Baroque in Rhythm” (say it quickly), which began with a frolicsome fugue for proper stylistic reference. Magg and Deyo were front and center for “Badine” from Bolling’s “Picnic” Suite for Flute and Guitar, which set another infectious pace, leading up to “Jazzy” from hid Flute/Jazz Piano Trio Suite No. 2, where the group sent up volleys of notes that somehow came together in a pinpoint conclusion.
“Sereine” (“Serene”) from the Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio made an ideal conclusion to the first half, a kind of bookend to the opening “Gracieuse,” with its lovely oboe solo and slow-fast-slow shaping.
It was off to “Emerald City” (Seattle, not Oz), a tribute for jazz quartet and orchestra by Seattle-based Brent Edstrom after intermission. Melia set a genial mood on tenor sax in this regional premiere, which was followed by Vince Guaraldi’s “Lucy and Linus” from the “Peanuts” television specials. However, this was not just a small bite, as on TV, but a gourmet rendition of the signature tune, followed “Skating,” where Mason truly did skate over the piano keys, and Sharfe added his own hot licks at the end – or as Cassidy called it “Mike action.”
The great Dave Brubeck died Dec. 5, the day before his 92nd birthday, and there could have been no better tribute than his “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Cassidy explained the origin of its quirky rhythms (picked up by Brubeck from street musicians in Turkey), and Mason and company gave them eloquent voice, Melia in a virtual rant on alto sax, Mason with a touch of savoir-faire.
The concert ended with another regional premiere, this one by versatile arranger Don Sebesky, his “Sebastian’s Theme,” which borrows from Johann Sebastian Bach (Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord No. 2 in E-flat Major, BWV 1031). Beginning softly with Mason on piano, it made a lovely finale, with Melia on tenor sax, Deyo on guitar and the always adept KSO, complete with harp and English horn.
Next up for the KSO is the Vienna-based, classical comedic duo Igudesman and Joo April 6 at Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion. This one promises to be a season highlight. Tickets (get them while you can) at (859) 431-6216, or visit www.kyso.org