Nine seasons on, the Henry Mancini Institute is expanding its stylistic reach ever further as it tries to prepare aspiring young musicians for just about anything. A glance at its concert schedule this summer reveals bewildering variety and greater chance-taking, although the opening concert in Royce Hall on Saturday night mostly set the table with the institute’s main thrusts — jazz and film.
If there was a particular emphasis, it was on the legacy of Gerry Mulligan, who to this day is still remembered more for his jaunty heroics on the baritone sax than as a distinctive arranger and composer. As was correctly pointed out from the podium, Mulligan was the most active arranger on the hugely influential “Birth of the Cool” sessions of 1949-50 — not Gil Evans, as is assumed these days.
The evening was backloaded with a pair of Mulligan compositions faithfully adapted by Tom Scott and a rather episodic tone poem, “Springwings,” that HMI artistic director Patrick Williams wrote for Mulligan and Dave Grusin in 1989. It was a rare opportunity to hear Scott on baritone, recalling Mulligan’s tone with a stylistic bent of his own on “Line for Lyons” and spinning a relaxed, eloquent storyline on “A Ballad.” Grusin was there on solidly mainstream piano, and the ensemble was powered by Peter Erskine on drums.
The other jazz feature was a humorous workout on Duke Ellington’s “Grand Slam Jam,” with three soloists from the HMI Orchestra having fine, raucous, grooving fun up front.
Only six days in existence, this edition of the HMI orchestra had no trouble with Mancini’s suave Theme from “Mr. Lucky,” Lee Holdridge’s predictable cues from “East of Eden,” Ennio Morricone’s haunting theme from “The Mission,” Bruce Broughton’s lightly scored scherzo “The Magic Horn” and the bursts of clockwork percussion in Vince Mendoza’s “Quixote.”
Yet the most interesting orchestral piece came from one of the student composers, Matthew Janszen, whose “Release” boasted a swinging swagger in the outer sections and a good lyrical middle theme passed from instrument to instrument. It was also a pleasure to hear the orchestra almost au naturel in Royce, free of the overbearing amplification of past seasons.