Monday, November 1, 2010

In review--They Got Rhythm

Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu

Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek, D’Rivera
American Music for Clarinet and Piano
Harmonia Mundi

The clarinet either rubs people the wrong way or in the right hands, enchants its listeners. The reed instrument finds itself in the right hands with Jon Manasse when he pairs up with pianist John Nakamatsu, performing compositions by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, John Novacek and Paquito d’Rivera. On the recording, American Music for Clarinet and Piano, listeners (even those who don’t enjoy the clarinet), find themselves immersed in a diverse range of musical genres, from blues to nuevo tango, jazz, and of course, American classical.

Bernstein and Gershwin of course need no introduction unless you’re reading this review from a remote part of the world. But outside of Pan-Latin jazz, Paquito d’Rivera might be new to listeners’ ears (though hardly new to mine), and John Novacek (the youngest composer on the recording, in his 40s), actually waxes nostalgia on the recording, while presenting some wild rags (ragtime). The diversity alone is worth mentioning, but also the large sound performed by only two instruments. Listeners might make the same mistake I have and imagine an orchestra performing the various suites. Take a listen to d’Rivera’s second piece of The Cape Cod Files, “Bandoneòn” and you might actually hear the ghost of Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneòn. I did and as it turns out, that’s my favorite piece on the recording. D’Rivera and Piazzolla both possess the ability to wrap their music around listeners’ hearts. “Bandoneòn” only reminds me of this rare talent.

While I’m sure that Manasse found quite a workout from the pieces on the recording, listeners’ ears will also find the music physically challenging because of the diversity and the virtuosity of the composers and performers. So if you know of someone who claims to despise the clarinet, play this disc for him. The recording ends with Gershwin’s lively I’ve Got Rhythm and if that doesn’t send listeners off whistling, nothing will.