The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s jazz series at the Walt Disney Concert Hall delivered a jolt of enterprise by unveiling a newly commissioned Third Stream mass by Eduardo Gutierrez del Barrio. The Phil pulled out the stops for him — lining up a first-class front line of jazz wind soloists (flutist Hubert Laws, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, oboe/soprano sax Paul McCandless), stacking the full Philharmonic and two choruses behind them, with the Phil’s creative chair for jazz (and a longtime collaborator of Gutierrez del Barrio’s), singer Dianne Reeves, as the principal soloist. Now all they needed was an inspiring piece of music. Alas, Gutierrez del Barrio’s “Misa Justa” was not up to the task.
There is a substantial, honorable record of jazz religious works going back to the 1960s, when some enlightened religious leaders tried to harness the turbulent zeitgeist of the times by commissioning such pieces from the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Vince Guaraldi, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. And Gutierrez del Barrio (better-known perhaps as Eddie del Barrio) has many interesting collaborations to his credit — some highly creative albums with Herb Alpert (“My Abstract Heart,” “Under a Spanish Moon”) and Stan Getz’s gorgeous Indian summer statement, “Apasionado.”
But this “Misa Justa,” a setting of the Latin Mass juxtaposed with feminist-slanted religious poetry by Patsy Moore, never achieves liftoff. The classical sections smoothly dovetail into the jazz breaks and back; the jazz portions generate some swing; climaxes accumulate and fall, with the chorus gradually rising in a babble of spoken voices at one point. Yet little of the material in this 38-minute work lodges itself in the memory; the plain-wrap orchestrations don’t entice the ear, nor push back any boundaries.
Most crucially, we never feel much exaltation or emotion in this score. Even in the final bars of the Agnus Dei, where the text lashes out against the oppressive “lesser laws of man,” the moment comes and goes rather casually.
Left to their own devices in the evening’s first half, Reeves and her rhythm section were in a mostly subdued, low-key mode, perking up when Laws, McCandless and Blanchard joined them separately and eventually together. Blanchard was in especially soulful form, trading pithy brass comments with Reeves’ accomplished scatting in an improvised spot.