The Re-(w)Rite of Spring, a jazz work by the Mobtown Modern Big Band, interpreting Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, arranged and directed by Darryl Brenzel

By Daniel Garrett

Mobtown Modern Big Band, The Re-(w)Rite of Spring
Producer Darryl Brenzel
Co-producer Mack McLaughlin
Innova Recordings, 2012

The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is a live recording of a jazz interpretation—beautiful, urgent, surprisingly oriented to groove—by the Mobtown Modern Big Band of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The Mobtown Modern Big Band’s work is cerebral and effervescent, full of morphing structures and shifting moods. It contains mystery, danger, possibility, and has the sharp, whimsical sensibility that some of us identify with the twentieth century. The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), an experiment in rhythm and tone, in 1913 for a Diaghilev ballet featuring the great dancer Nijinsky, part of Stravinsky’s movement away from traditional orchestrations. Form was important to him, and he began to focus on select instruments and musical colors, eventually using the methods of Anton von Webern, organizing tones by rows and colors. Composing for ballets, operas, and symphonies, as well as more intimate settings, Stravinsky’s oeuvre contains Fireworks (1908), The Firebird (1910), The Soldier’s Story (1918), Ragtime (1918), Renard (1922), Oedipus the King (1927), Symphony of Psalms (1930), Symphony in Three Movements (1945), Orpheus (1947), The Rake’s Progress (1951), and The Song of the Nightingale (1967). His Rite of Spring remains central; and its forceful jazz interpretation, arranged by Darryl Brenzel, and performed in Baltimore in 2010 at the Metro Gallery by the Mobtown Modern Big Band, is controlled, offering a shimmery, sizzling sound, with varied pacing that sustains attention.

The music of The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is “fully evocative of the ‘Rite’ we know, and yet totally fresh in color and atmosphere,” said critic Tim Smith, following the live concert, in the Baltimore Sun (May 13, 2010). The band’s playing was commended by Smith, who noted that the new arrangement, in which Brenzel treated each of Stravinsky’s fourteen named passages as a separate song, is much longer than the original, and “allowed room for thematic development and improvisation.”

The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is divided into two parts—part one, featuring sections one through eight; and part two, featuring sections nine to fourteen. The first part of The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is called “Adoration of the Earth.” The introduction to The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is mysterious and sensuous, first darkly sonorous, quite classical, then jazzily energetic, and with “Dances of the Young Girls” a marching propulsion is heard, broken by a tautly swinging rhythm that has some blues and maybe even funk in it—one perceives sonic elements from throughout the twentieth century—before the piece ends with fanfares. “Ritual of Abduction” blends the cool and the swinging, with the horns creating a frothy interplay that is like some Latin music; and that ends and the listener hears a fine staccato rhythm—tiny beats—and an unfurling of a swirling but tempered melody, something suggesting adventure. The “Ritual of the Rival Tribes” does not sound angry or hostile, but rather confident, featuring a jostling, joyous saxophone; and the “Procession of the Sage” is extremely elegant (the listener thinks less of an aging wise man than a collegiate, dapper figure—perhaps the acolytes are gathering), and “The Sage” is slower and somber but has a pleasing clarity and simplicity of sound, marked by single strummed notes before horns enter playing long lines that hang in the air, followed by the fast, lightly pounding “Dance of the Earth.”

The second part of The Re-(w)Rite of Spring is called “The Sacrifice” and begins with a tone that is both somber and wistful, possibly a strange combination (one does sense an alertness to mystery); and in the “Mystic Circle of the Young Girls” is a harmonious blend of horns despite very short rhythms, and the string playing resonates earthily, succeeded by the mischievous divergent rhythms of the next section, “Glorification of the Chosen One.” There is a feeling of the theatricality of social activity and purpose that the title “Evocation of the Ancestors” indicates, but the “Ritual Action of the Ancestors” seems more subdued, despite its circular movements, and the concluding “Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One)” has the driving, clashing dynamism one expects.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. “Important goals are frequently difficult to achieve, hard; yet, working hard is not the same thing as working long and stupid,” says Daniel Garrett, who has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.