Although regarded by some as the greatest of all big band leaders, Tommy Dorsey jazz trombonist had a multi-faceted career that included some pioneering work in the field of so-called crossover. His 1942 recording of Eric Coates' light classic By the Sleepy Lagoon was a straight-laced, non-jazz instrumental in a formal setting that nevertheless sold millions of copies. It makes sense that someone would want to write a concerto for him, and symphonic jazz maestro Nathaniel Shilkret of RCA-Victor fame did just that in 1945. Premiered that year at the Hollywood Bowl under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, it was a success with the audience, but for a variety of reasons the work was never recorded. The wait is over, thanks to expert Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg and musicologist Bryan Freed. BIS' Christian Lindberg Plays Nathaniel Shilkret restores this late masterwork of the symphonic jazz genre after 60 years' loss and neglect, and it is well worth the wait.
Shilkret's Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra manages to pull together an eclectic mix of influences -- mostly Richard Strauss in the first movement, with some additional modernistic flourishes. George Gershwin is evoked in the second, specifically the slow section of An American in Paris, a work Shilkret was the first to record. The third movement is a freewheeling homage to the sound of the swing band, something relatively few "crossover" composers ever had the nerve to try in a standard orchestral context. Lindberg does not try to simulate Dorsey's patented trombone timbre; rather, he fashions his own interpretation of the solo part that delivers its essence, and even provides some passages Dorsey himself dropped because he was unsure about utilizing techniques that were not part of his usual vocabulary. The accompaniment provided by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra under John Neschling is lively and well done, although in some passages the strings seem a little diffuse.
What kinds of filler can one supply to a work that is so unique? BIS does not try, but instead throws in a couple of post-modern oddities -- 30-something Swedish composer Fredrik Högberg's trombone concerto subtitled "The Return of Kit Bones" and Lindberg's own Helikon Wasp. "Kit Bones" is an amusing romp, in part being reminiscent of Spike Jones, where the trombonist portrays a sort of a Western gunfighter. There is silliness aplenty, but also some very nice passages that remind one of Cinemascope Westerns. Hijinks and comedy are also encountered in "Helikon Wasp," which at times, owing to its stubborn ostinati, static string chords, and magisterial trombone line elevated above the fray, sounds a little like a Stan Kenton showpiece for Frank Rosolino. Some listeners may not choose to listen to these newer pieces more than one time, but taken all together one cannot remember a more entertaining program of trombone concertos on disc. For those who fancy the 'bone, BIS' Christian Lindberg plays Nathaniel Shilkret is an absolute must-have.