Violinist Benjamin Beilman makes his debut as an exclusive Warner Classics artist with Spectrum, an album uniting works by Schubert, Janáček, Stravinsky and Kreisler. With his regular duo partner, pianist Yekwon Sunwoo – a fellow alumnus of Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute – Beilman explores a multitude of colours and expressive possibilities, evoking them with the finest technical nuances.
Electric bassist Jaco Pastorius' Word of Mouth big band made two recordings for Warner Bros. during its short life, of which is this is the superior one. The large ensemble (five trumpets including Randy Brecker, five reeds with solo space for Bobby Mintzer on tenor and soprano, four trombones, two French horns, Toots Thielemans on harmonica, drummer Peter Erskine, percussionist Don Alias, and Othello on steel drum) performs a variety of superior material. Although Pastorius takes his share of solo space, and the sound of a big band backing a bass soloist is rather unusual, he does not excessively dominate the music. Pastorius contributed some of the pieces (most notably "Liberty City"), is showcased on "Amerika," and also plays such tunes as "Invitation," "The Chicken," "Sophisticated Lady," "Giant Steps," and Gil Evans' "Eleven."
This keyboardist was putting the "smooth" into "jazz" long before there was a format by that name. Since the mid-70s, Bob James has been one of instrumental music's most consistent purveyors of tunes that hover in the gray area between lighthearted pop and more sophisticated jazz textures. James' approach here is a little like his contribution to the supergroup Fourplay rather than dominate, he's content to jam and be one of the guys. Though his solos stand out, it's almost as if he's a hired gun on a project featuring the best and brightest of this second generation of smooth jazzers. He's farmed out the production tasks to some top studio guys (including musician/artists Paul Brown, Chuck Loeb, Michael Colina, and David McMurray. On the lively, shuffling "Take Me There," he bounces around joyously over Loeb's crisp guitar lines and Kim Waters' smart mix of soprano and alto saxes.
The performances heard on this recording by the superstar duo of violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Martha Argerich do not exactly form a discrete group: the first work, Schumann's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, was recorded live in 1998, while the rest consists of 2016 studio recordings. The 1998 performance, however, was part of a concert in Saratoga Springs, New York, that provided the stimulus for the joint recording. The Schumann sonata performance was not released at that time, and the rest of the program expands on the music it presents. It's nice to have the Schumann, which has a good deal of tension and energy. As for the rest, it's hard to point to a clear decline in the skills of either of the septuagenarian performers.