The Hollywood Arts Council once again outdoes itself with its annual Jazz Pilgrimage concert, this time with a superb program performed by two outstanding units injected with historical assignation.
Program was divided into three segments: the American Jazz Institute Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Masters, performing songs by Johnny Mandel; Lennie Niehaus leading that 18-member orchestra through his own film compositions; and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West doing music from his film noir-inspired disc, “Now is the Hour,” as well as a suite of his music from Showtime’s current “12 Angry Men.”
Mandel’s set touched on his work from 1958’s “I Want to Live!” (introduced as the first jazz-based film score), 1964’s “Americanization of Emily” and some of his most popular tunes, “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Suicide is Painless” — the theme from “MASH.” Band flashed an earnest edge with an emphasis on the baritone sax of Bill Perkins.
With Niehaus at the controls, the AJI Orchestra showed a softer side, performing music Niehaus has composed and arranged, much of it for Clint Eastwood films. His Emmy-winning “Kisses, Hugs and Laughs” from “Lush Life” was paired with “All the Things You Are,” music from “Tightrope” and “Bridges of Madison County” and a jazz samba version of “Misty.” Pianist Cecilia Coleman gave the proceedings a wondrous luster.
Haden’s band presented the most dramatic moments of the evening, sticking to works bold and dark. String arrangements by pianist Alan Broadbent enhanced the mood tenfold and Haden’s playing was his usual superlative. Saxophonist Ernie Watts performed with dramatic restraint, bolstering the orchestra’s still canvas with cinematic action.
Over the years, the Jazz Pilgrimage has celebrated Charlie Parker’s California tenure, the legacy of Central Avenue and bright spots on the jazz scene. But none has so completely achieved its vision as Jazz Goes to the Movies , replete with wondrous stories about the compositions and the films from which they came, as well as the readings of Raymond Chandler’s works that preceded Haden’s set.