Notes & Reviews:
The title Magnum Opus has always referred to the largest or greatest work of a particular artist. For Rex Richardson, this recording represents his entire evolution as an interpreter of new music, and as a composer. Featuring the work of some of his favorite collaborators, the recording demonstrates how a traditional form - the classical concerto - can continually be injected with new life. Dana Wilson's 'Concerto for Trumpet and String Orchesta', written for Richardson in 2005, features an idiomatic language that stretches from Shostakovich to modern jazz and makes tremendous demands on the orchestra and soloist alike. Doug Richards' Intercontinental Concerto for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra, written for Richardson in 2009, is as vast in scope as its name would imply. In between the two larger works, Richardson's own 016 Fantasy serves as a short but fiendishly challenging interlude.
"Listeners should be warned: Magnum Opus is not your typical Classical CD. Truth be told, Rex Richardson is not your typical trumpet player. Internationally renowned in both classical and jazz worlds Richardson is an innovative champion of new work. You might remember him from Rhythm and Brass, a few of Joe Henderson's concepts, or the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. He hasn't gone anywhere.
In Magnum Opus we are privy to the meeting of minds, ideas and styles. Three composers, three compositions and a multitude of images are hung together in this dynamic release. It truly is a 21st Century approach to Trumpet Concertos. Magnum Opus opens with a concerto featuring Rex Richardson and the Ensemble Instrumental Appassionata under the direction of Daniel Myssyk: A Meditation on Yeats. With movement titles from Yeats' poetry this meditation is a poignant torture that has many profits. One of which is a timeless emotionality. With expert patience in its revelation, Wilson's composition offers a tireless Richardson a freedom to unleash a resolute and velvet approach to his instrument.
Richardson's stylistic playfulness, strategic articulation and virile delivery work to the benefit of Wilson's incredible rendering of a Yeats-ian world. A place that is expressive of the tension that lies between love and war, oppression and liberation. The concerto has the makings of an epic romance and Richardson's approach has all the secrecy and testimony of a human voice. Impressive amounts of discretion and conflict resolve themselves nicely in the third movement Had they but courage equal to desire which is a complete stand out. Richardson's work in the movement's improvised cadenza shows an attention to this self indictment and a human pulse that is too good to be true.
Following the concerto is Richardson's 016 Fantasy for Trumpet and Piano features Dmitri Shteinberg on piano is a sincere, dream-like dance between safety and anxiety. I can't decide which one reigns. The piece's near episodes have the distinction of memory, or near memory which is heightened by Shteinberg's interestingly mysterious quality. Together with Richardson, Shteinberg inspires. Their energetic interaction propels the 016 Fantasy forward. Technically this piece is an arduous adventure of the highest kind.
The disc closes with a six part Intercontinental Concerto for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra by the always original Doug Richards. Richardson shows his versatility through the use of five different trumpets (slide, piccolo, flugelhorn, eflat soprano cornet and trumpet) and a robust blend of stylistic approaches. The Intercontinental Concerto begins in Africa and works its way through the continents to South America. Each of the pieces seems to introduce the next. These national voices are profound and prolific renderings of typified continental experiences.
Africa is a bright welcome that hosts conglomeration of influences structurally and instrumentally. I was delighted by Richard's inclusion of an outstanding Adam Larrabee on banjo. Asia has a Ron Myles like quality though it is constructed based on traditional Japanese Gagaku (Japanese Court music). It has an eerie mysticism about it that lumbers into the room like some sad monster with a slew of unanswerable questions. That is to say it is as visual as it is audible. The instrumentation for this piece is a blend of muted trombones and Hammond B3. Not classical, not yet anyhow. That is what is most impressive about Magnum Opus: its sheer magnitude. Magnum Opus is progressive, risky and brilliant music that leaves the listener waiting for the next thing.
In contrast, Europe is by far the least interesting of the Intercontinental Concerto if only because it plays with sound bytes most familiar to most listeners. It feels less risky than the other movements but a quadruple-time improvisation by Richardson and drummer Brian Jones is anything but artless and does some work for redemption in the face of our adverse expectations.
In Australia there is a dangerous collision of the English and the Aboriginal. It is playful but heavy. Luis Hernandez does some excellent work on a tenor sax solo. This piece has a recognizable neo-traditional touch to it that is emblematic of Intercontinental Concerto. Thank you Doug Richards for reminding me that music is political and contentious. You do so throughout the Intercontinental Concerto with style. In North America Richardson singes the horn with the haute style of Cootie Williams and a smoldering vulnerability all his own.
The common thread throughout the Intercontinental Concerto and Magnum Opus is Richardson's cut throat, no holds barred sensuality. He is more than a technical wizard he has an untaught quality and that is his forceful immediacy. His presence and mark on the album prevails. There will be more than one occasion when listening to this disc that you will have to remind yourself you are listening to a classical CD but there is never a point where you question your belief in the music or its musicians. - Lisa Brimmer
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Works DetailsWilson, Dana : Concerto for trumpet & string orchestra (A Meditation on Yeats)
- Performer: Rex Richardson (Trumpet)
- Conductor: Daniel Myssyk
- Ensemble: L'Ensemble instrumental Appassionata
- Running Time: 21 min. 26 sec.
- Period Time: Contemporary
Richardson, Rex : 016 Fantasy, for trumpet & piano
- Performers: Dmitri Shteinberg (Piano); Rex Richardson (Trumpet)
- Running Time: 9 min. 55 sec.
Richards, Doug : Intercontinental Concerto, for trumpet & jazz orchestra
- Performer: Rex Richardson (Slide Trumpet)
- Conductor: Doug Richards
- Ensemble: Great American Music Ensemble
- Running Time: 41 min. 22 sec.