Friday, November 20, 2009

Blue Monks

Mass in Blue, St George's Singers with Tina May, and the RNCM Jazz Collective, RNCM, Sunday 8th November 2009

A slightly different outing for me this one, Will Todd's 'Mass in Blue' being "an exuberant jazz setting of the latin mass for choir and twelve piece band". The evening kicked off with a selection of standards from the youthful RNCM Jazz Collective led up by the spirited and somewhat feverish conducting of Mike Hall. The group's improvising did exhibit some scruffiness at the edges, and perhaps a degree of youthful naiveity, but nontheless there were some great sections here. I especially liked the contemporary sounding 'Beneath the Underdog', a piece by Dean Sorenson which contained some sweet spacious modern harmonies and voicings.

After the break we were back for 'Mass in Blue' complete with the St George's Singers and jazz vocalist Tina May. It was immediately quite strange to hear the latin words in 'Kyrie' over a very strong and classic bluesy setting. Tina May's vocal inflections were well delivered, and as classic as they come. A rousing 'Gloria' took us into fast swing territory, and was followed by the laid back Summertime-like shuffle blues of 'Credo', rounded off with some call and response between May and the choir towards the end of the piece. The tempo was back up to fast swing for 'Sanctus', the pace of which gave the St George's choir a good workout. The overall effect of this and the previous pieces was inevitably reminiscent of American gospel choirs, and the effect was as warm and uplifting as you would expect. 'Benedictus' was the first significant shift from the definitive blues harmonies of the previous movements, being something closer to a ballad. This gave the choir the first opportunity to really shine with some rich deep resonant harmonies and contrasting lines that really showed what they could do. 'Agnus Dei' was May's show piece, starting with touching piano accompaniment that followed through into a show closing rousing fast shuffle.

Overall this was good stuff and came across well. I had presumed the composition would be more of a fusion of jazz/blues harmony with classical harmony, and this would have been really interesting to hear. However that's clearly not what Will Todd had in mind with his actually quite reverential composition. Appropriately reverential for what is after all a Mass one might think.

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