Willem Breuker Kollektief

Rhapsody in Blue

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Breuker's fascination with early 20th century classical composers who had some degree of jazz influence surfaced in full flower with the release of this LP. Previous fans of his might have expected a tongue in cheek deconstruction of Gershwin's most famous work, but Breuker and soloist Henk de Jonge play it absolutely straight and succeed in creating a vigorous interpretation of a piece all too often prettified. In his scaled-down arrangement (for the Kollektief augmented by the Vera Beths String Quartet), he fashions something closer to Gershwin's original recordings of the piece which, in their speed and wildness, often come as a great surprise to the contemporary listener. de Jonge, one of the finest pianists in jazz who almost no one has heard of, handles the part with grace, style, and an obvious fluency. His solo recital of Gershwin's lovely "Three Preludes" (a piece that seems to prefigure some of Barber's work in this loosely defined genre) is at once lush and precise.

Breuker's own "Spanish Wells" is one of his more successful lengthy compositions (re-recorded to somewhat better effect on the 1989 release Metropolis), an extended homage to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks. Its hoedown theme is great fun and receives some wild elaborations from Breuker's bass clarinet (replete with his "standard" chicken squawks) and Vera Beths' down-home fiddlin'. It's only appropriate that the session is closed out with a stirring rendition of the "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

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