Judy Bailey - Another Journey: Live Recordings / Music for Symphony and Jazz Orchestras by Judy Bailey
One can see why an imaginative jazz composer, normally restricted to trumpets, trombones, saxophones and the rhythm section, would welcome the opportunity to exploit the additional colours provided by the symphony orchestra: French horns, bassoons, the oboe and so on, not to mention strings.
The distinguished Sydney jazz musician and composer Judy Bailey, now 82, has ploughed into this magic garden with relish over several years. The result is a hugely enjoyable double-album that includes three works for jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra (each with three movements) and three works for large jazz ensemble (known in jazz as the big band). It feels like the culmination of a life’s work. Bailey’s writing is not merely gorgeous, it is Ellingtonian. Not in the sense of copying Duke Ellington — far from it — but, in the sense that, like him, she has found combinations of instruments in her ensemble writing that produce extraordinarily rich sounds.
Throughout this splendid album, those rich sounds lift the listener’s spirit. Look out for the juxtaposition of conventional jazz writing with sounds that are rarely available in jazz. A good example is the use of strings in the third movement of the signature work, Another Journey, which the composer describes as “Afro-American”. Here an exuberant and percussive jazz theme is juxtaposed on two occasions with rhapsodic interludes, played unaccompanied by the strings. After various improvised solos Bailey returns to the head of the tune. This time the rhapsodic interludes are replaced by written bebop-style interludes played brilliantly in tempo by the strings, accompanied by the rhythm section. The sound of classical string players articulating highly literate jazz lines is refreshing.
There is little piano from Bailey on the album; here she is primarily the conductor. But, in the second movement of Another Journey (“European”) she plays a lovely rippling piano solo. Backed only by a bassist and drummer, this can sound merely decorative, but here the lush orchestral bed under the piano sound amplifies the romanticism that has always been a feature of Bailey’s piano music. The album features many solos from unidentified individuals. They are invariably of professional standard, and I can hear no evidence that any of the ensemble musicians, apparently from student ranks, is struggling with Bailey’s sometimes complex writing.
Bailey is a fearless composer whose music has always been unusually robust compared with the work of her contemporary John Sangster, who is widely regarded as the finest composer to have been active in Australian jazz. Like Sangster, Bailey exemplifies the highly accomplished generation of self-taught jazz musicians who emerged in Sydney in the 1960s, and have spent a lifetime refining their idea of musical beauty.
Eroc Myers ~ The Australian
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