One of the side perks of this business is how much one can learn from liner notes. The dishy release from the Netherlandic reed quintet Calefax spreads their love for the New World all over the place. New York (New Amsterdam?) is the focus of this collection of arrangements that plays like the most excellent school concert imaginable. No disrespect to the players, they kick it in a way that reminds me of an earlier band, the Netherlands Winds, continuing the low countries’ exceptionally high standard of woodwind playing.
But it’s weird to listen to their Rhapsody in Blue, effectively scored down to the five voices in saxophonist Raaf Hekkema’s arrangement. I won’t make arguments about style, but I hear almost a practiced accent in the impeccably spoken lines of this fun little play. The liner notes remind us that this was Gershwin stepping out onto the concert stage from the show pit, and I think while the playing is excellent, there’s some kind of reserve or modesty in the performance suiting New Amsterdam more than Midtown.
Samuel Barber’s Excursions, Op.20, originally for piano, are more folk than Broadway. They really sparkle in this excellent performance. Florence Price’s Piano Sonata in E Minor receives a gently Romantic treatment. Harry Burleigh’s Southland Sketches was based in gospel music. One learns, again in the very readable liner notes, that Burleigh was a mature student at the National Conservatory of Music (founded expressly to foster equity in musical training, regardless of sex or race or disability), where he studied with Antonín Dvořák.
The latter half of the disc celebrates jazz, pop and street music. Two Ellington tunes are beautifully rendered by Hekkema and Oliver Boekhoorn (the aptly named Oboe/English hornist), and Hekkema also made a fantastic tribute to both Billy Holiday and Eric Dolphy based on Dolphy’s bass clarinet treatment of God Bless the Child.