Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Makoto Ozone - Jeunehomme (Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271)
(Spartacus Records STS021. Review by Mark McKergow)
The SNJO continue their excellent recent form with this take on Mozart's Jeunehomme piano concerto as re-imagined and arranged by Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone. The result fizzes with smart music making, some classic big band voicings and excellent solos by both Ozone and the SNJO members. Mozart wrote his 9th piano concerto at the age of 21, for Victoire Jenamy, the daughter of a friend. Regarded as an early masterpiece, the work is in three movements and shows new developments in the form (for the time) with the solo piano entering very early (after only a bar and a half) rather than waiting for a full thematic exposition from the orchestra. The piece has lasted well and is still regularly performed.
Makoto Ozone is known as both a concert pianist and jazz virtuoso, and brought the idea for a collaboration to the SNJO's leader, tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith. The result is this live recording from 2014, a dazzling combination of rich and detailed orchestration and virtuoso soloing. This is no Jacques Loussier-esque 'swung Mozart'. When we hear Mozart's themes they are mostly played straight. Ozone then treats them as the source material for variations, flipping in an instant into jazz territory. This care with the boundaries works well, and the impact is not of jazzed-up Mozart but of a thrilling combination of the composer's mercurial talent and the arranger's audacity and skill.
The 50-minute work is in three movements, as was the original. The opening Allegro Swing leaps into action with Ozone working with his rhythm section of Calum Gourlay (bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums). The jazz idiom appears after the opening bar-and-a-half and we're off! The SNJO shows excellent ensemble playing in tackling the Mozart passages, which lead into a mightily swinging mid-tempo solo from Tommy Smith. A short bass solo from Gourlay gives way to Ozone's sparkling piano solo. As we might expect from a piano concerto, the piano is at the fore quite a lot of the time, with a cadenza which has Ozone reaching for barrel-house and stride stylings.
The slow movement Andantino Tango lets Tommy Smith lead the atmospheric opening into an extended trio section, before Ruaridh Pattison's silky soprano sax solo relaxes the feel. The last movement, Rondo/Presto Be-Bop gives space for Tom Walsh's soaring fluid trumpet and Chris Greive's classy trombone to step forwards. The orchestrations move around at a pace, keeping the listener on the edge of their seat with changes of feel and tempo which give plenty of interest but don't feel rushed. Finally Alyn Cosker, having swung mightily at the drum kit, is given his head before a final piano cadenza brings the work to a close.
The live recording from the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh is excellent, the band is on punchy form, the Mozart is well played and the jazz elements are top drawer, and the big band sections have real class and verve. The audience, not being classically trained, applaud between movements and it's not hard to see why. This is a genuinely exciting work, and I'd love to see it performed live in London at some stage.
Jeunehomme was released on 31st July 2015
LINK:CD Review of SNJO American Adventure from Feb 2014
CD Review of Culloden Moor Suite from September 2014
CD Review of In the Spirit of Duke from 2013