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Rhapsody In Jazz

February 2024
1min read

PORTRAITS IN BLUE
George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Variations on “I Got Rhythm”; James P. Johnson: Yamekraw

Sony Classical SS/ST/M 68488 (CD); $17.98 . CODE: BAT-57

ONE THING RHAPSODY IN BLUE HAS never been is jazz—until now. Marcus Roberts, the pianist long associated with Wynton Marsalis, has adopted the Gershwin orchestral masterpiece the way generations before him have taken on individual Gershwin songs like “I Got Rhythm” or “Liza”—as a basis for improvisation that finds new depths and heights in the music. A quizzical, quiet little banjo riff starts it off, as if to nod toward where Gershwin’s inspiration had its source, and then the familiar opening clarinet solo comes in swinging and sassing, and Gershwin leaves the ground. The piece’s usual sixteen minutes or so swell to just under half an hour of fifty-piece big-band swing, bebop saxophone riffs, bravura trumpet passages, cool fifties ballad sounds, and brilliant piano solos from Roberts himself. The very idea of the piece is audacious; what is more amazing is that Roberts carries it off wonderfully, creating a joyously wide-ranging work whose intensity never lets up—and that never loses touch with the original. After this you won’t think of Rhapsody in Blue the same way again, or of jazz improvisation as limited to one song at a time. The CD continues with Roberts’s similarly imaginative enlargements of Yamekraw , a 1927 piano and orchestra rhapsody by the jazz composer James P. Johnson and Gershwin’s own Variations on “I Got Rhythm. ”

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