Lesley Spencer: Classical Delight (2004)
Blending a large orchestra with jazz can be a risky thing, but in the hands of a capable composer/arranger/conductor like Vince Mendoza, the results can be stunning and inventive: a fascinating blend of the composed and the improvised, combining the best of a larger ensemble with the looser potential of the small. Sadly, pianist Lesley Spencer and the Latin Chamber Pop Ensemble & Orchestra fail abysmally with Classical Delight. With a concept that attempts to pass as jazz, but completely lacking any sense of exploration or experimentation, this might be nice, fluffy entertainment for a summer afternoon in the park, but is completely light on substance and, for that matter, on style.
Spencer is a composer who has obviously listened to the genres she is trying to emulate, but she never really gets inside any of them. Instead of being simple in an attractively naïve way, “Ballade for Claire” is merely simple in a childish way; Spencer is more Nigel Tufnel than Erik Satie.
The recording covers the gamut from the 1812 Overture-style bombast of “The Battle of Marathon” to the Spanish-fusion of “Passionate Journey Suite,” where oboe and English horn intertwine annoyingly during the first movement. Like Spencer, most of the soloists on the recording play the notes but don’t seem to understand their meaning. On “Calypso,” where the soloists get to “BLOW (improvise),” as the liner notes educate us, the results are laden in cliché; they are capable enough musicians on their instruments, but clearly do not understand the abstract truth of improvisation. The only exception is flautist Jim Gailloreto, whose short solo on “Musetta’s March” approaches the real thing.
With awkward arrangements that sometimes see blatant and jarring shifts between orchestra and small ensemble, many of the pieces seem to scream out, “Look! They’re playing jazz now!” Much like some of those awful classical pieces for orchestra and rock ensemble that were written in the 1970s, the distance between the two worlds is never bridged.
That being said, the one notable contribution to the album is guitarist Fareed Haque, whose solo, “Reflections,” is the highlight of the album—mainly because it’s him alone, without the melodrama of the orchestra and children’s choir that join him on the other two parts of “Passionate Journey Suite.” It’s too bad that Haque is not more engaged on this session, although this is clearly a money gig for him, as the disparity in comprehension of the style in which he plays and those who accompany him is all too wide.
There is little delightful about Classical Delight. Equal parts melodrama and saccharine sentiment, and completely missing the spirit of what jazz is all about, there is little to recommend about this project. With compositions that never rise above the mundane, arrangements with the subtlety of a Mac truck, and performers who consistently miss the mark when it comes to improvisation, this is a recording which not only bears no repeat listens; it barely deserves one.
Track Listing: The Battle of Marathon; Lakeside Story; Russian Waltz; Passionate Journey Suite - Heaven; Reflections; Serenata - Calypso; Ballade for Claire; If I Could Say It Now; Musetta's March; Tribute
Personnel: Lesley Spencer (piano, composer), Fareed Haque (guitar on
Style: Fringes of Jazz