Magni Wentzel

Gershwin: Porgy & Bess

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With this CD, the Norwegian singer/guitarist adds to the half-century-long list of albums that mine the treasure chest of a single work, George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess. Is there any other single opera that has been subjected to so many different recorded treatments and homages? Only Carmen -- the work that ironically inspired Gershwin the most -- comes close. Most of the time, this is a fairly conventional jazz treatment of the score's embarrassment of melodic riches, as Wentzel reharmonizes some of the tunes within the jazz tradition and her sextet settles into comfortable mainstream grooves. But not all is straight-ahead combo jazz here, for Wentzel sings "Oh, Dr. Jesus" and the magical threesome of street-calls (honey, strawberry, crab) to just the accompaniment of her guitar; these serve as semi-operatic interludes in between the sextet workouts. Also, some songs -- e.g., the Coltrane-ish "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" and "Summertime," with its long, nearly atonal instrumental intro -- are driven so far off their harmonic bases that they practically become new compositions. As a singer, Wentzel is a note-bender par excellence, weaving with the daring of a Sassy Vaughan that sometimes careens dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. She doesn't follow the chronological order of the opera -- not many do, anyway -- but she does include some numbers ("Lo, Bess, Goin' to the Picnic?") that others overlook. Tenor saxophonist Nils Jansen, trombonist Christian Jaksjo, and pianist Olga Konkova mostly solo in the international bop esperanto, with Jansen occasionally going somewhat outside. In all, a respectful, respectable treatment of Porgy with a few odd twists.

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