Milagro Quintet

Old Works in Blue

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Stefano Conforti, saxophonist and leader of the Milagro Quintet, gets a chance to try out his considerable arranging chops on this collection of "classic" material that ranges from Maurice Ravel to J.S. Bach to Tommy Shannon's Irish standby "Tura Lura Lural." One wonders why such a phenomenal modern creative jazz outfit would want to tackle material registered, if not in antiquity, then at least in the present outside the already expansive universe of jazz. Perhaps this is the reason: to illustrate once again the virtually limitless ability of jazz to reinterpret music from all ages and make it new. The set starts off with the aforementioned "Irish ballad-cum-drinking song," with Conforti utilizing a Breton euphonium to state the melody -- slowly, stately, purposefully -- before trumpeter Samuele Garofoli slips in behind him and pianist Marco Ferrara lifts the mood with a gorgeous vamp employing augmented fifths and ninths while Conforti switches to tenor. The ensuing improvisation never really strays from the changes, but just sort of paints them, while the melodic line is transformed into a cool swing fest. Elsewhere, on Bach's Bourrée (right, not the Jethro Tull version, thank you), a multi-tracked tenor and soprano lead the line, underscored in counterpoint by the trumpet, all set to a perversely swinging tempo by Sergio Berardinis' drums and the pizzicato stylings of Francesco Guidobaldi's bass. The minor-key elegance and restructured meter open the tune up, and it becomes not so much a dance number as a sprightly stomp. Perhaps the most moving and successful track on this delightful record is Ravel's Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte. Taking his already sweet melody and changing its harmony and tempo to make it a mid-tempo blues ballad is a feat of arranging genius. Where Conforti's tenor strolls languidly through the melody, Ferrara adds painterly washes of harmonics and ostinato phrasing to add a silky, nearly pastoral wash of colors, textures, and timbral spaces. For those who would consider a collection such as this frivolous or gimmicky, think again. Conforti and the rest of the Milagros have done listeners a great service in giving back -- in an altered and perhaps more relevant context -- music that might otherwise have been forgotten altogether. Now, if only other jazz musicians would cover the Milagros' versions and change them yet again -- that would be something.

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