CCOHK: ROLLING WITH BOLLING | Hong Kong, City Hall Concert Hall

Conducted by Vahan Mardirossian, the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong (CCOHK) have undertaken an enormous challenge in premiering these two jazz-fusion works in Hong Kong: it is unusual to find an orchestra that effectively manages both the classical and the jazz.

Claude Bolling’s Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio (1983) pits the piano (Patrick Lui), bass (Sylvain Gagnon), and drums (Nate Wong) against full orchestra in a cartoon-like antiphony: what starts off feeling a bit like a musical joke, however, actually becomes illuminating, thanks to expert and sensitive playing by both the orchestra and the trio, and lightning-fast switches back and forth between the two.

Opening the concert is Michel Camilo’s smaller Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp (2002), which, unlike Bolling’s work, integrates the latin and jazz piano into the orchestral work itself, across four utterly different movements. The second, “Tango for Ten”, is thrilling and angular, with rapid-fire parallel lines gypsying up and down, while the opening “Tropical Jam” is grounded by functional harmony, the orchestra and piano playing together in big chunky chordal homophony.

Not everything is perfect: Patrick Lui is one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated pianists and composers, but in this context, it feels like he is trying to hard to assert his own uniqueness, when often the music from both works just calls for the simplest and most rhythmic delivery. Yes it’s jazz, but we’re supposed to be hearing it with the clarity and discipline of a Bach organ fugue. Nonetheless, a rare and wonderful treat to hear these niche works performed live.

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