Jazz-classical mash-ups can be the equivalent of bad fusion food, sticking two flavours together that add nothing to each other. Not so Simon Bainbridge’s new work, which makes the two worlds coalesce into something new to both. Counterpoints, Bainbridge says, celebrates the artistry of Eddie Gomez, bassist to Miles Davis, Bill Evans and others. Premiered by Gomez and the Britten Sinfonia not two weeks after Wynton Marsalis’s rambling Violin Concerto, it had far more to say in a third of the time.
Counterpoints is not really a concerto, even though there is a nod to the genre at the very beginning, when Gomez led off with an unaccompanied episode reminiscent of a classical cadenza. Then he put his bow down and continued in jazz-player style, subtly amplified. Out of that grew a series of highly textured episodes in which the bass set the agenda, sometimes playing exactly what Bainbridge wrote, sometimes improvising. A fast, walking bass invited cascading, staccato phrases from the orchestra; a slower, more rhapsodic bass passage turned into a haunting quartet with piano, oboe and a percussionist playing the marimba with a bow. Three cheers for a classical piece that seems to grow from jazz rather than merely to appropriate it.
The other works fell to either side of the jazz-classical divide. Pianist Steven Osborne opened with Stravinsky’s tiny Tango and a pensive, Debussy-esque improvisation based on the final chord of Tippett’s The Ice Break, and later joined Gomez and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom for music by Claus Ogerman that would have been at home in a jazz club. There was Stravinsky’s Ragtime, spiced with the sound of the cimbalom, and two works by Zappa: his sweepingly sleazy The Perfect Stranger, and Igor’s Boogie, an exuberant Stravinsky pastiche so short it seemed like a fanfare. Best, though, was a rare chance to hear Milhaud’s eclectic ballet score La Création du Monde, played vibrantly by the Sinfonia under conductor Kristjan Järvi’s snappy direction.
- At Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, on 21 November. Tickets: 0845 548 7650.