A Third Ear for “The Planets: Reimagined”

JEREMY LEVY JAZZ ORCHESTRA, The Planets: Reimagined (OA2 Records, 2020)

The Planets, Op. 32 composed by Gustav Holst. Arranged by Jeremy Levy

PERSONNEL

Saxophones:

  • Alex Budman, alto and soprano
  • Kevin Garren, alto
  • Jeff Driskill, tenor
  • Glen Berger, tenor
  • Tom Luer, tenor
  • Ken Fisher, baritone and bass clarinet

Trumpet:

  • Rob Schaer
  • Javier Gonzalez
  • Michael Stever
  • Mike Rocha

Trombone:

  • Alex Iles
  • Francisco Torres
  • Andy Martin
  • Juliane Gralle
  • Steve Hughes, bass

Rhythm:

  • Andrew Synowiec, guitars
  • Andy Langham, piano
  • David Hughes, bass
  • Jamey Tate, drums
  • Brian Kilgore, percussion

CONDUCTED by Jeremy Levy

TRACK LISTING

  1. Mars, The Bringer of War
  2. Venus, The Bringer of Peace
  3. Mercury, The Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity
  5. Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age
  6. Uranus, The Magician
  7. Neptune, The Mystic

One must be careful when “re-imagining” a classic. If one isn’t careful, the accusation of gimmickry and the derision following swiftly after are never far away.

When an attempt swings and misses (like the ill-begotten attempt at recreating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the late 70’s), it can land with a mighty thud. But sometimes, the attempt works, and a new classic is born. Such is the case with Jeremy Levy and his jazz orchestra, who have tackled and put a wonderful new spin on Gustav Holst.

Levy and company have brought a sense of swing to The Planets, a musical suite that seems to defy the very nature of swing. But, there it is. And it works!

Using brass where strings originally dominated, Levy and his orchestra take Holst’s seven compositions into a completely new orbit (see what I did there?), giving them a youthful exuberance easily embrace by younger musicians looking to spruce up the classics.

The pieces have been reshaped, but are still completely recognizable. The listener knows something different is going down from the album’s outset, as the brass and rhythm section sets the tone from Note One. Has the newfound swing lightened some of the original music’s intensity? On a piece like “Mars,” that is a valid argument. But it also becomes beside the point. Menace does not seem to be what Levy is going for here. And the musical point still comes across.

This suite is a truly collaborative effort. Marvelous solos from trombonist Andy Martin (“Mars”), saxophonist Alex Budman (“Mercury”), and trumpeter Michael Stever (“Saturn”) are almost surprising because of the way they stand out, yet remain perfectly blended within the overall mix.

Of all the new arrangements, “Jupiter” probably swings the hardest, rife with attitude, while the juxtapositions played within “Uranus” sound like they were great fun to play. The new arrangements are capable of making one forget about the lack of strings, which dominate the original piece.

The “compare and contrast” makes for part of the fun when listening to this album. What did the orchestra do? How did the jazz band reinterpret it? It’s a study awaiting studious debate. For example, the fade out on “Neptune” might be similar to the orchestral version, but it seems to have different intentions. Where the orchestral notes seem to drift off into space (highly appropriate), the jazz band can be envisioned floating off collectively on the bandstand, still playing and headed off to the next solar system, where a new audience awaits.

Jeremy Levy’s re-imagining of The Planets is a true “lightning in a bottle” moment. Proper respect is paid to the original while allowing his vision to take the piece to a different level. If anything, it’s a great way to get a new crowd to appreciate a classic.

#cirdecsongs

Jeremy Levy Jazz Orchestra

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.

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