London Review of Books Blog: Not Jazz-with-Strings

“Five years ago, the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón was performing with his quartet at a club in Chicago when he was contacted by Julien Labro, a French accordionist based in Canada. Labro was in town making a record with Spektral, a Chicago-based string quartet that specialises in contemporary music. He had arranged a piece by Zenón, a racing tune called ‘El Club de la Serpiente’, for the session, and wanted to know if he would have any interest in recording it with them. Zenón went to the studio, and instantly clicked with the quartet. ‘The guys from Spektral were really on top of the music, which made the session very fun and easy,’ he told me. (‘El Club de la Serpiente’ appeared on Labro’s 2014 album From This Point Forward.) When the Hyde Park Jazz Festival commissioned Zenón to write a work for local musicians, ‘naturally I thought of Spektral.’

Before I say anything more about this breathtaking album, let me emphasise what it is not: jazz-with-strings, the archetypal middle-brow, mid-20th-century genre in which a jazz soloist improvises over an orchestral backdrop that would otherwise be of scant musical interest. No insult intended: I rather like jazz-with-strings, especially if the soloist is Charlie Parker. But the strings in jazz-with-strings seldom did more than create a lush ambience – an aspirational signifier of class and refinement at the time, now a quaint signifier of the time and its aspirations.”

Read the entire article here