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August 29, 2003
Jazz Review
Lalo Live
Versatile jazzman returns to the intimate stage after 30 years
by Jon Burlingame

Perhaps no composer in Hollywood has enjoyed a career as multi-faceted as Lalo Schifrin. Jazz pianist, jazz composer, film composer, concert composer, classical conductor – you name it, he's done it. And now, happily for Los Angeles and New York-area fans, he's come full circle and is once again performing in jazz venues.

This week, Schifrin is appearing at L.A.'s Catalina Bar & Grill; from Sept. 2 to 7, he returns to New York's famous Blue Note, where he performed in July of last year.

His quartet at the Catalina consisted of bassist Brian Bromberg, drummer Harvey Mason and Australian brass player James Morrison, who demonstrated amazing facility with the trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn. (In New York, Schifrin will be joined by Morrison, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Louis Nash.)

The L.A. gig was a special treat for Schifrin fans because, although he has done many orchestra and big-band dates over the years, he hasn't performed in an intimate nightclub setting here in over three decades.

The program was as eclectic as the composer himself: A few film themes, several original tunes and even a jazz adaptation of a classical work. The first set featured the uptempo "Down Here on the Ground" from Cool Hand Luke and a thrilling rendition of Schifrin's TV classic Mission: Impossible.

He opened with two numbers from his 1982 LP Ins and Outs: the lively title track and the eloquent, lyrical "Brazilian Impressions." The latter, he explained, was based on "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 5 (first arranged in 1964 for his classic Verve LP New Fantasy , written by Villa-Lobos. "I hope he forgives me," quipped Schifrin, to the delight of the crowd.

Schifrin took two originals from his Jazz Meets the Symphony series and reduced them for small combo: "Blues in the Bassment," a tribute to the late Ray Brown, which featured the brilliant Bromberg; and "Chano," from the second Jazz Meets the Symphony album, a tribute to Chano Pozo, the father of Latin jazz. Rounding out the first set was "Millenium Blues," from Schifrin's 2000 suite "Esperanto," which featured expansive solos by all four artists (and a remarkable virtuosic display by Morrison, who alternated between trombone and trumpet).

The 70-minute first set was followed by a 60-minute set that included a fresh take on the composer's theme for The Fox (with Morrison soloing on the unusual bass flugelhorn); "Paraphrase," another number from Ins and Outs; and the dramatic "Ritual" movement from his Grammy-nominated 1999 "Latin Jazz Suite."

Rounding out the set were two more numbers from the Jazz Meets the Symphony series: the fascinating baroque-meets-jazz number "Bach to the Blues" (also featured on his recent Return of the Marquis de Sade CD) and Schifrin's arrangement of John Lewis' "Django," dedicated to guitarist Django Reinhardt. The evening was a memorable one all around – and while several of the pieces are available on Aleph Records' current release, Ins and Outs / Lalo Live at the Blue Note, there's nothing like hearing four jazz masters improvising live.

Schifrin seems to be busier than ever. Daniel Barenboim will conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Oct. 9 and 11 in the world premiere of Schifrin's latest orchestral work, "Fantasy for Screenplay and Orchestra." For much of the rest of 2003, he will be touring Europe, conducting orchestras in his film music, symphonic jazz and operatic arrangements: October in France, November in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and December in England (London, Birmingham, Brighton), Moscow, Slovenia and Geneva.

In the meantime, his label Aleph Records has scheduled an October release of his innovative score to the Oscar-winning 1971 documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle; and, in February, the long-awaited complete original soundtrack to his 1971 classic Dirty Harry. This will mark the first time that Schifrin's entire score, including some unused pieces, will be made commercially available.

© 2003 Jon Burlingame

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