As gala benefit concerts go, the Henry Mancini Institute’s annual bash was an uneven edition for the memory books, a patchwork of celebrity turns, flashes of jazz personality, Third Stream fusions, sometimes tedious film music and plenty of talk from the podium. The lineup of guest talent rounded up by the resourceful Institute promised much, yet perhaps inevitably, there wasn’t enough room on the program for most of them to register much of an impact.
One who did was Arturo Sandoval, who performed a new trumpet concerto, “Trumpet Escapade in D Minor,” written for him by Jorge Calandrelli, who led the unflappable Institute Orchestra in its first performance. Calandrelli tries to wrap up Sandoval’s omnivorous sound world in a compact, steadily-building 13-minute package, starting with a classical passage for muted trumpet, opening up to big band, Afro-Cuban fireworks (with a timbales part for Sandoval), and closing with a florid cadenza that permits the extroverted virtuoso to go over the top. Here was a piece that accurately and honestly caught the virtues and excesses of this musician.
With the orchestra sitting quietly in the dark, her voice filtered unpleasantly by the sound system, Diana Krall was limited to a solo number, “Why Should I Care,” and a relatively gutsy display of blues piano and vocals backed by the solidly punching bass of Christian McBride. Bruce Broughton’s tuba concerto, deftly played by Carolyn Jantsch, seemed engaging and attractive, but we heard only two of its movements.
As part of a suite honoring filmmaker and jazz booster Clint Eastwood, James Carter drew fellow saxophonist Pete Christlieb into a fiery duel over “Lester Leaps In,” and “Parker’s Mood” featured the sensual sax of James Moody and a delightfully unpredictable Roger Kellaway piano solo. Yet the rest of the suite, led by arranger-composer Lennie Niehaus, was a somnolent, meandering series of cues best left in the moviehouses.
After a while, the 2¼-hour show wheeled around to the main business at hand — a presentation by Quincy Jones of the annual “Hank” award to Eastwood and the unveiling of a handsome, whimsically designed United States commemorative stamp honoring Mancini. And as if to stamp home the point, the orchestra with Mancini’s name rumbled through his “Peter Gunn” theme, with electric bassist Abe Laboriel rocking out on the famous riff.