Terra Incognita is woodwind quintet Imani Winds’ fifth recording for E1. It consists of three newly commissioned pieces by composer-performers primarily associated with the jazz tradition. This past year on Sequenza 21, we’ve been talking a lot about ‘indie classical’,’ a genre that incorporates rock instrumentation and signatures into a concert music context or, conversely, invites classical instruments and formal signatures into the indie rock arena. But it’s important to remember that jazz has a long and storied history of interweaving its various paths with concert music, dating back at least one hundred years (or more!).
Jason Moran’s Cane reflects an awareness of this cross-pollination. A four-movement suite, it’s a tone poem based on his family’s ancestral home in rural Louisiana. And while one can certainly detect jazz signatures in its lilting rhythms and engaging harmonic palette, acknowledgement of neoclassical composers such as Stravinsky and Hindemith also abound. It’s a tip of the hat to early 20th century composers who crossed over from the other side of the stream – incorporating early jazz into their scores.
The title track is the first piece Wayne Shorter has written for an ensemble other than his own groups, but it too shows a deft awareness of scoring for winds in a concert music context. One particularly hears a tinge of Impressionism in Shorter’s language – a whiff of Ravel’s harmonies – something he’s displayed for many years in elegant jazz originals.
Paquito D’Rivera not only composed Kites for Imani Winds, but he also appears as a guest clarinetist with the group; they’re also joined by pianist Alex Brown. D’Rivera’s score pits the syncopated rhythms of Latin jazz against piquant harmonies and ostinati reminiscent of early Stravinsky. It’s a very attractive amalgam, and a tricky arrangement. The performers handle Kites’ frequent flurried runs and quick changes of mood deftly and with considerable musicality.
Terra Incognita suggest that jazz and concert music can still blend into a hybridized form of music containing considerable eloquence.