Mark-Anthony Turnage

Blood on the Floor

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Long a passionate jazz fan, British classical composer Mark Anthony Turnage tried his hand at an eight-and-a-half minute third stream piece for the Ensemble Modern, and it ultimately turned into this often grim, complex, sprawling 69-minute suite for chamber band and jazz soloists. The images on the CD jewel box are terrifying -- a portrait of the haggard-looking composer and a syringe bathing in blood -- and indeed, parts of the work are elegies for Turnage's brother, who was a heroin addict. Sensational though the inspiration may be, the real story is Turnage's ability to achieve a serious, vital contemporary classical/jazz alliance. Whether relying upon a pulse or not, the writing has a jazz sensibility and Turnage always enforces his harmonically tough language, with no attempt to pander to delicate ears. There isn't much freedom for the stellar jazz soloists -- guitarist John Scofield, saxophonist Martin Robertson, and drummer Peter Erskine -- to take off on their own, but the musicians do get a chance to flaunt their distinctive styles now and then. Scofield really burns in "Needles" and he and Erskine get down to some funky New Orleans second line jamming in "Crackdown." Otherwise, Turnage's writing adapts with amazing closeness to Scofield's unique sound and deliberately skewed sense of time, as well as the driving Erskine manner, and he evokes his idol Miles Davis in the lengthy finale, "Dispelling the Fears." As expertly and transparently performed by Peter Rundel and the Ensemble Modern, this is definitely not easy listening entertainment, but it is a tough nut worth cracking.