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by Ian Mann

January 09, 2010


Tim Garland continues his mission to build bridges between the jazz and classical traditions

In the highly informative booklet accompanying this CD saxophonist Tim Garland speaks of his “mission”  to forge links between his twin loves of classical music and jazz. Garland’s jazz credentials have never been in doubt as his tenure with US jazz legend Chick Corea attests and in recent years he has been a key figure in the British “chamber jazz” ensemble Acoustic Triangle with bassist Malcolm Creese and pianist Gwilym Simcock. 

Sometimes working in conjunction with the Sacconi String Quartet, Acoustic Triangle have done more to blur the boundaries between the two genres than practically anybody else, a process continued by Garland’s 2007 project “The Mystery”  featuring his own orchestral music alongside jazz performances from himself (reeds), Asaf Sirkis and Ben Elijah (percussion),Noel Langley (trumpet) and perhaps most significantly Corea on piano.

“Celebrating Bach” takes Garland a stage further as he adds the distinctive sound of his soprano saxophone to orchestral versions of concertos by J.S.Bach and Igor Stravinsky plus a fantasia and concerto of his own. The twenty strong Northern Sinfonia is led by violinist Bradley Creswick and the performances were recorded live at separate performances at the Swaledale Festival in Yorkshire and at The Sage, Gateshead in 2008/9. The recordings, produced by Audio-B label owner Creese are of the highest technical quality and bring out the full beauty of the music. 

With their complex mathematical structures and tricky time signatures Bach and Stravinsky are among the favourite composers in the classical canon for jazz musicians. Their music allows for jazz improvisation and experimentation and Bach has been regularly “jazzed up” from the days of MJQ and Jacques Loussier to more contemporary performers. The music of Stravinsky is the subject of an ongoing project by pianist Will Butterworth and drummer Dylan Howe ( see elsewhere on this site).

The beautifully played orchestral backdrops here provide the perfect foil for Garland’s glistening, serpentine soprano as he performs wonderfully inventive and lyrical improvisations within the classical structures. In his liner notes David Truslove even suggests that Bach would have been happy to write for the saxophone had such a resource been available. There are of course similarities between the oboe and the soprano and in Truslove’s words the transfer is most “felicitous”.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the opening Bach “Oboe Concerto in D Minor BWV 1059”. The original slow second movement has been lost and is replaced here by the Adagio from Alessandro Marcello’s oboe concerto. To non classical ears the change sounds virtually seamless and this opening concerto is a good introduction to Garland’s Bach inspired sound world. The bite and inventiveness of Garland’s soprano work is enough to draw in jazz listeners who might otherwise baulk at listening to classical music.

Stravinsky’s “Concerto in E Flat” is altogether darker and knottier and much later in date but the composer was clearly inspired by Bach and was attempting to bring some of the qualities of the eighteenth century concerto to his own work. The subtitle “Dumbarton Oaks” was taken from the home of his rich American patrons Mr & Mrs R.W.Bliss of Washington and the début performance of the piece was made at their home in 1938. 

Garland’s own pieces are also inspired by Bach and Stravinsky. His “Fantasia In two Movements”, subtitled “The Stream”, includes advanced harmonic and rhythmic ideas drawn from both composers. Bach’s love of mathematics and word play frequently saw him spelling out his name in the music, a device Garland borrows here. Like “Dumbarton Oaks” Garland’s “The Stream” was also a commission and he incorporates the initials of his patrons John and Margaret Sparke into the music as well as emphasising the water imagery inherent in the title. The name “Bach” also means “stream”, another cunning piece of music/word play from Garland. 
The music itself sits well with the works of Bach and Stravinsky as does the Garland’s “Concerto For Soprano Saxophone” in which the saxophonist explores further the improvisational opportunities provided by Bach’s music. Subtitled “Homage To Father Bach” the piece incorporates ideas from Bach’s oboe concertos as well as from some of his fugues. Garland explains the inspirations behind his writing in the highly informative CD booklet.

It is appropriate that another work by Bach should close the album. The “Concerto For Violin and Oboe in C Minor BWV 1060) features Sinfonia leader Bradley Creswick as the violin soloist alongside Garland who plays his customary soprano. The orchestra are given equal billing here with Bach treating the conversation between the ensemble and the soloists as one of equal partners. After a stately opening allegro and adagio the soloists are finally given more space on the more forceful closing allegro. 

“Celebrating Bach” is clearly a labour of love for Garland and the standard of his playing plus that of his orchestral companions is consistently excellent. The album is a total success on it’s own terms but regular jazz listeners, myself included, may well begin to notice the absence of bass and drums, and consequently swing after a while. Classical listeners may find it hard to adapt to the saxophone, despite the undoubted capabilities of it’s exponent. 

I still prefer to hear Garland in a jazzier context, particularly his outstanding Lighthouse Trio with Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis, but as a bridge building exercise “Celebrating Bach” is a fine record in it’s own right.

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