Boston Herald - January 12, 2011 - Keith Powers
Allman Brothers get classical makeover
Roll Over, Beethoven
What do a classical quartet, a Cambridge jazz club and the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” have in common?
A lot, said composer John Morrison, whose reworking of several Allman Brothers tunes highlights the Firebird Ensemble’s Friday date at Ryles Jazz Club.
“Rock music carries the classical tradition more than avant garde music does,” Medford resident Morrison said. “I really believe that rock and jazz are part of western classical music, not just a branching off.”
The Firebird’s performance series, “Meat the Composer” (it used to be held at a Somerville rib joint), includes works that not only cut across genre lines, but ignore the lines altogether. Made up entirely of music inspired by jazz and the blues and performed by the classically trained Firebirds - a core ensemble of viola, percussion, cello and piano - the concert is an attempt, in the words of Firebird founder Kate Vincent, “to show that those boundaries don’t exist anymore.”
“In contemporary America, composers are part of the culture they grew up in,” she said by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “New music ceases to be people drawing on a jazz tradition or making references to the blues. It’s a case of people writing the music that they love.”
Morrison’s contributions to the evening are more or less straight transcriptions of Allman Brothers originals, transferring the famous dual guitar lines to different instruments, “but concentrating on the flexibility of the rhythm,” he said.
“I did a transcription of ‘Whipping Post’ a few years ago, and up to then I had never really studied the way the bass line was structured. It’s not just a complex bass pattern - it’s fluid. It unfolds.”
Other pieces on the program include new work by some of the most interesting composers working today, among them recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen, Donald Crockett and Donald Martino.
“One of my ideas for this program is that there’s something in it for everyone,” Vincent said. “I just want to surprise audiences and share the palette of contemporary music. We need to make programming choices that we believe in. Sometimes audiences are suspicious, but contemporary classical music has gotten extremely diverse.”
“It’s not like rock music has gone off in some direction that will be reabsorbed by classical music,” Morrison said. “Classical music will come out on the other side altered, with new elements. I was trained in classical music and came to rock and jazz just as a listener. But I’ve now discovered even more depth in rock and the blues. It makes me wish I had played guitar when I was growing up.”