It's Clazzical: CD

This review was published on: June 29th 2019

Julian Marc Stringle (clarinet)
Merfangle Music

Alerted by both its title and content, this album posed a minor problem for your reviewing team. A combination of classical themes embellished by modern jazz improvisation – for example, Eddie Daniels’ 1986 recording Breakthrough with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – normally counts as ‘crossover’ music, handled by a jazz critic. But this CD is different. Designed for radio airplay or easy listening, Julian is variously supported by his Dream Band (his favourite musicians playing guitar, piano/Fender Rhodes, bass guitar and drums), a solo guitar, a string quartet or a combo of any of these. Additionally, the final track, Sir John Dankworth’s ‘A Lyric Fantasy’, tends towards chamber music. How we solved our conundrum can be deduced from the duet of signatures below.

Without doubt, Julian’s playing has much to interest clarinettists with a penchant for jazz. His style embraces more of a ‘cool’ DeFranco or Daniels than Goodman or Shaw, his sound is magnificent and his improvisation fluent. The varied programme ranges from Piazzolla to Villa Lobos and from Bernstein to McCartney (featuring ‘Libertango’, ‘Cantilena’, a West Side Story suite and ‘Yesterday’ respectively), providing the sort of fertile chord sequences which, incidentally, classical composers have for centuries exploited for their ‘variations’. While ‘Libertango’, the opening track, suffers from a surfeit of a very loud ‘poppish’ Latin American backing, this must not cause listeners to despair – the rest of this 57-minute, 12-track CD is very well balanced. Both Stratta’s ‘Good Morning Bahia’ and Mangione’s ‘Children of Sanchez’ demonstrate Julian’s jazz chops to great effect and are this reviewer’s most favoured tracks – but, in truth, he enjoyed them all.

Kenneth Morris

I’m picking up the baton at Ken’s suggestion to add a ‘classical’ clarinettist’s view of this interesting recording, although personally I don’t sense much of the classical about this varied, well-produced musical offering. Several classical affiliations are undoubtedly present among the prevailing light jazz, but these draw mostly on Latin American folk traditions (Piazzolla, Villa Lobos, West Side Story). This means that the title It’s Clazzical doesn’t really hold up in terms of the implied balance between classical and jazz, but it does reflect the album’s mix of musical approaches: composed, ‘classically’ conceived arrangements, overlaid with elements of improvisation.

As Ken has described, the disc features an impressive roster of collaborators who contribute colour and scale to proceedings. Julian’s beautiful tone is for me a little unvarying – mainly a sweet mf with few of the bolder jazz effects that classical clarinettists might envy. Perhaps such studied mellowness is all part of the radio-friendly strategy – it certainly works for Eddie Daniels – but perhaps a slightly wider range of sounds could have been offered. We do briefly get this with Julian’s impressive use of the bass clarinet in one of the West Side Story arrangements.

The last track, Dankworth’s ‘A Lyric Fantasy’, was given to Julian in an unpublished form by the composer before his death in 2010. This is its debut recording, and it is perhaps the only piece on the record that genuinely fuses classical and jazz architecture. Dankworth completists are advised to pick up a copy of It’s Clazzical for this track alone. Few would deny that this album showcases some highly accomplished and attractive clarinet playing and a creative musical vision.

Chris Walters

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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