Vince Mendoza: Renaissance

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One of the finest orchestral jazz albums I've heard this year is Vince Mendoza's Constant Renaissance (BCM&D). Recorded with a roughly 100-musician Temple University Studio Orchestra, the album is a Montana-sized canvas. Composer-arranger and conductor Mendoza is a six-time Grammy winner and has written arrangements for leading pop artists, including Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello.

On Constant Renaissance, the full orchestra is joined by two major soloists—Terell Stafford on trumpet and Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. The music and the album's title serve as a valentine to Philadelphia, a city that Mendoza notes has made enormous contributions to jazz. The album features just three movements—Bebop Elation (6:32), Solace and Inspiration (8:30) and Love, a Beautiful Force (7:16). The first movement is dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie, the second to Billie Holiday and the third to John Coltrane—all of whom were touched by their Philadelphia experience. The third movement features streaks of Coltrane's A Love Supreme.

Born in 1961 in Norwalk, Ct., Mendoza studied classical guitar and piano from an early age. He started on trumpet during high school and later earned a degree in music composition at Ohio State University. Then he moved to Los Angeles, completing his post-graduate composition and conducting studies at the University of Southern California.

The music on this album is exceptional on many levels. The score is expansive and sweeping, as if written for film. The solos are passionate and rich in tone. Mendoza's conducting is wave-like and inspired. And the arrangements make full use of the orchestra, with sections sliding in and out and overlapping with a Gil Evansian jazz-classical expression and intelligence. I found myself listening to this album repeatedly in a single sitting and looking forward to hearing it each time anew.

JazzWax clip: Here's Bebop Elation...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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