We never get enough French horn, English horn, or flugelhorn in jazz, and Balance features two out of three: Adam Unsworth on French horn and John Vanore on flugelhorn, so that's a bit unusual in and of itself. But there's more that's a trifle unorthodox. Though the band surrounding the two is top shelf (Bob Mallach, Bill Mays, Mike Richmond, Danny Gottlieb), they're not mentioned on the CD's cover frontispiece but instead, along with Unsworth and Vanore, just Byron Olson, the guy who issued the highly regarded Sketches of Miles and Sketches of Coltrane releases blending jazz with chamber ensembles, and who arranged and conducted the orchestra and band here. That spare triadic attribution, then, is quite just.
More than that, all cuts were written by either Unsworth or Olson, and Vanore produced and mixed the recording, so we're talking about gentlemen with quite overwhelming talents…to which the noted back-up ensemble is the flanking piece de resistance The result, Balance, is one of those elegant creations that, like the Gershwin catalogue and modern classical music harking back to Romantic days, is neither fish nor fowl but an evolution too infrequently seen in jazz—as, despite the omnipresent intelligent orchestral presence, this is jazz. Miles of course tackled it, as did Kenton, then Hubert Laws, Chuck Mangione—one of my favorites was Anthony Davis—and sufficient others to keep the rarified genre alive. Now we have this as well.
I guess one might call Balance a matter of 'gentlemen jazzbos' but this disc would not fit such a bourgeois descriptor. Jazz, progrock, and a few other styles erupted from the brains and talents of mavericks unwilling to stay in place and follow the rules; hence, here you get not only the Gershwins but also Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Grofe along with Dexter Gordon, Oscar Peterson, Rusty Bryant, and many other estimables taken forward to Bernstein and Mancini, maybe even Herrman on the far side, in thoughtful but energetic and highly inventive readings. And, to these ears, this sort of music is precisely what, much earlier on, produced such marvelous one-offs as Jonas Hellborg's The Word. Nothing operates in a vacuum and no one takes up all the air, but with evocations as encompassing as this, you might, with a grin, be tempted to say otherwise.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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