Life lessons

By JON GARELICK  |  September 8, 2008

Ogerman and Shorter both have a taste for film metaphors, and despite very different careers, their æsthetic found common ground in Pérez. Much as Shorter has always been the independent artist, Ogerman has had a long career as an arranger-for-hire, with slews of Top 40 sides to his credit. When I reach Ogerman on the phone in LA, where he’s preparing to record with Diana Krall, he tells me of his days cranking out arrangements and asking his friend Nelson Riddle, “Do we have to do this until we’re tired? I wouldn’t want to die over an arrangement of ‘Blue Skies.’ ” But Ogerman’s work also extends to classical compositions and some of the most esteemed orchestral arrangements in jazz, from 1965’s Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra (the new album’s most obvious antecedent) to albums with Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, George Benson, Michael Brecker, and Krall — her 2001 multi-platinum breakthrough The Look of Love.

For Across the Crystal Sea, Ogerman drew from sketches going back 20 years; these in turn drew on much of the music of his childhood, elaborating on themes from Falla, Massenet, Rachmaninov, and Sibelius, as well as a piece from the 20th-century German composer Hugo Distler. There’s also John Latouche & Jerome Moross’s “Lazy Afternoon” and Harold Rome’s “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings” (both sung by Cassandra Wilson), and the finale, Ogerman’s own “Another Autumn.”

Although Ogerman’s instrument is a pencil, Pérez found the music open — sometimes terrifyingly so. “He’d say, ‘The challenge is going to be that I didn’t think of anything for you to do, you have to make it up yourself.’ And I said, ‘Well, okay.’ He said, ‘The problem is, there are 100 bars of that.’ ”

“Yes,” says Ogerman. “It was a tour de force, and that was the first tune he recorded. I said, ‘Listen, this is the longest piece for you to play, the improvisation is very long, it goes through all 12 keys.’ But he’s great, he really nailed it down.”

The piece was “The Purple Condor,” based on the melody of “Nana” from Manuel de Falla’s “Six Popular Spanish Songs,” and as with much of Ogerman’s work, he was thinking visually — of the color of the mountains near Palm Springs. Pérez recalls, “It was never about the music, it was always about the event.” Any string treatment of jazz risks bombast or sentimentality, but Ogerman’s voicings exude a delicious melancholy, and the album’s undulating rhythms (with bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash, and percussionist Luis Quintero) enhance the emotional pull. Pérez’s improvisations, meanwhile, are gorgeous, long-lined arcs.

The visual imagery recalls one of Shorter’s early suggestions to Pérez. “The first day, we were playing ‘Vendiendo Alegría,’ and he said, ‘Put some water in those chords.’ I said, ‘What? Water?’ He said, ‘Yeah, those chords need more water.’ ” Pérez went back to his room that night wondering what Shorter meant, even watching TV commercials with water imagery. He decided on a voicing based on the interval of a fifth. Shorter’s reaction the next day: “Ohhh, yeah! But the water has to be clean.” It took Pérez another five years with Shorter to realize what he meant: a major second inside the fifth was muddying the water.

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