Bernt Rosengren

Porgy & Bess

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Acoustic jazz has had a surplus of George Gershwin tributes over the years -- some of them quite memorable, some of them pretty routine. One of the most memorable examples of a jazzman embracing Gershwin's music in the 1990s was this 1996 date by veteran tenor saxophonist Bernt Rosengren. Leading an all-Scandinavian octet that includes Gunnar Bergsten on baritone sax, Tommy Koverhult on soprano sax, Hakan Nyquist on French horn, Sven Berggren on trombone and Peter Nordahl on piano, the Swedish improviser focuses entirely on the music from the 1930s musical Porgy & Bess and provides thoughtful arrangements that recall Miles Davis' orchestral work of the late 1950s. Although the CD is entirely instrumental, Rosengren called it a "jazz opera" and saw the horns as portraying main characters from the play: while Bergsten is Porgy and Koverhult is Bess, the leader "plays" Sporting Life. But while lovers of the play will find that information of interest, even those who have never seen a production of Porgy & Bess will find Rosengren's arrangements of classics like "Summertime," "I Loves You So" and "It Ain't Necessary So" rewarding. In Sweden, this CD was exalted as one of the saxman's finest achievements, and those who made that claim weren't exaggerating. Coincidentally, Rosengren was born the very year Gershwin died (1937), which underscores the remarkable staying power Gershwin's songs have.