April 2005

Clark Terry with Jeff Lindberg and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra - George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
Americana Music
Format: CD
Released: January 2005

by Eric Hetherington

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Clark Terry’s new release revisits Gil Evans’ arrangements of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for a twenty-first-century take on the music. Being subject to a direct comparison with the original Miles Davis/Gil Evans record might be inviting critical suicide for lesser musicians, but Terry and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra provide a worthy alternate to the original.

The 84-year-old Terry has had a triumphal career in jazz, and this disc proves to be one of its highlights. His playing is strong, clear and emotional. Unlike Davis, who kept a darker, melancholy tone throughout the set, Terry seems to direct the style and sound of his playing to the individual song at hand. The Chicago Jazz Orchestra demonstrates the vitality that large-scale jazz ensembles can have, and complements Terry’s playing admirably. While I can’t begin to count the number of jazz renditions I have of standards like "Summertime" and "It Ain’t Necessarily So," I am sure to return to Terry’s versions often.

The sessions, held at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, were recorded on 16 tracks in 24 bits at 44.1kHz using a Tascam 2424 recorder and a Benchmark AD2404 analog-to-digital converter for the stereo mix. The overall sound is sterile, but it conveys a decent soundstage. Unlike the fragmentation that can happen with some studio recordings, the orchestra sounds like an organic whole performing in a real space. I wish the recording was more alive and kicking, but the music makes up for the sonic shortfalls.

This is a wonderful performance of timeless music that can go head to head with the Davis/Evans original. However, as someone who greatly admires Gil Evans’ talents and his contributions to jazz, I would have liked to see him given cover credit for the arrangements.