Say the term "crossover album" to a classical music lover, and you're likely to hear a terse comment about marketing. Say the same thing to a jazz fan, and you'll probably encounter an open mind. Jazz, after all, wouldn't exist without the fusion of musical traditions. And the willingness to lend its musical presence to other styles and interpretations has made jazz a driving foundation in pop, rock, techno, and hip hop. Jazz thrives while classical music - with all its artistic riches - petrifies in isolation; where jazz is engaged in a musical dialogue with the world, classical music listens only to other classical music.
Fortunately, two French musicians - the classically-trained flautist Emmanuel Pahud and the jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson - have decided to translate some of their favorite classics into jazz. It's been done before, although not usually with a classical musician involved. The major risk on Into the Blue is basing the collaboration around the flute.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the flute has to overcome in jazz is its lack of physicality; it just can't get down and dirty like other instruments. Here, however, even though the ensemble consists of a flute and a rhythm section (the very physical combo of piano, bass, and percussion), the musicians work with the flute's strengths. Drummer Ali Jackson gives the music momentum without driving it, and Terrasson wisely avoids linear stylings, backing the flute with splashes that sound like soft-focus Cecil Taylor.
Together with Pahud, they step into the wide spaces of Ravel's "Pavane pour une Infante D & eacute;funte" and insert a beautiful wash of soft jazz. Vivaldi, with his sharp, driving lines, gives the group some of its most swinging numbers. And "Rondo alla Turka" yields its melody to a reggae beat and comes alive as a piece of world music, not the chintzy example of orientalism that Mozart wrote.
If you don't know a thing about classical music, this isn't the kind of album that's going to teach you to love the symphony. But it will show you that there's a universal power in the melodies and harmonies of these pieces. And classical lovers might come to understand that we need more ambassadors like Pahud and Terrasson. There's a vitality in these pieces that's been missing from recent classical recordings. It's when musicians learn to listen to one another that music comes alive.
Publication date: 08/21/03