Westbrook/Rossini

Rossini, Zurich, Live 1986

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Hearing the fine studio recording of Westbrook's magnum opus Rossini made for some trepidation at the prospect of a live recording of the work. At the Zurich Jazz Festival, Mike and Kate Westbrook, soprano sax wonder Lindsay Cooper, alto wizard Peter Whyman, trombone specialist Paul Neiman, tuba king Andy Grappy (though Westbrook also plays the instrument here), and drummer Peter Fairclough attempted the full work in front of a live audience. The result is staggering. Whatever little is lost in the recording quality due to the unpredictability of live dynamics is more than compensated for in a performance so dramatic, swinging, and joyful it is breathtaking. The New Orleans brass-band-style marches are here in all five sections of "William Tell Overture" -- played in random order over the entire program -- swinging '20s jazz, bop, European art song, strange free improv contrapuntal segments, and elements of funk, blues, and soul tied into a cabaret of nightmarish proportions and played with verve and fire. For those who don't know, the Westbrooks took to heart Rossini's opera and found individual sections that would adapt well to their own manner of working -- trying to define what that is with as many different kinds of records as they've done would take a week; let's just say they go from Abbey Road to Duke Ellington to lounge jazz torch songs to William Blake. They scored two hours worth of material both accurately and very loosely based on the Rossini opera and put together an unusual band to play it. Even Westbrook's harshest critics praised the work. It was such a sensitive swinging affair, so musically rich and diverse, yet so cohesive, it was something entirely new in a world where supposedly nothing new could ever happen again. If one only contrasts any of the "William Tell" sections to the "Thieving Magpie" or the heartbreakingly beautiful "L'Amoroso Sincero Lindoro," you'll never believe it's the same group. Live, it's even tougher to grasp because there is no safety net, no alternate takes or editing to round out the rough spots. It's all one can do to take it in and not roll about the floor with your hands over your head, tears streaming in such blessed out delight you will cause your loved ones unnecessary worry. You'll listen for decades and still not comprehend the wonder if it. Yes, it is that good.

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