"Confounding the Genre Police" --DownBeat
The Scarlatti Jazz Suite Project commences with a short aria in G minor by Domenico Scarlatti, the famed baroque composer of over 550 sonatas for harpsichord. Pianist Donal Fox evinces an elegant pianissimo touch, setting the stage for the title composition, which refracts another Scarlatti theme into a 3/4 romp, with repeating motifs that build tension.
Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist John Lockwood accentuate the pulse, joined by vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who lends rhythmic assent and an occasional contrapuntal response. One of the most brilliant aspects of this original Fox composition is the manner in which the bass and drums mutate rhythmic emphasis, without the usual walking/ride cymbal approach while maintaining a swing feel that takes flight into fast baroque passages played in unison by Fox and Wolf. Midway through, Fox changes the melodic theme and the rhythmic intensity approaches the feel of funk and even rock, without veering into hysteria.
Recorded live at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, this outing is one of the most successful classical/jazz unions in recent memory. The Modern Jazz Quartet paved the way for Fox's approach, to be sure, yet his method is sui generis. On Horace Silver's classic ballad “Peace,” Fox' subtle flourishes evoke the classical technique underpinning his prowess yet maintain the mood of the original. His interplay with Wolf, each echoing the swift runs of the other, morphs into a swinging section that incorporates a very brief classical theme before going back home to the melody.
”Variations On A Bach Fugue,” featuring Lockwood's masterful bass, becomes a meditation on the blues replete with Don Pullen-esque elaborations and McCoy Tyner-like percussive comping. “Libertango” and “Oblivion,” by Tango innovator Astor Piazzolla, are compositions perfectly suited for interpretation by Fox. Both take disparate musical forms and integrate them to create fine art.
John Coltrane's minor blues “Mr. Syms” is another highlight, as is Robert Schumann's “Davidsbundler,” played with a tender, dreamy quality that leaves the audience breathless. Your breath will be taken away also, as the ingenious artistry of Donal Fox improvises on several hundred years of musical tradition with aplomb and veracity.
-- By Greg Thomas
DONAL FOX is internationally acclaimed as composer, pianist, and improviser in both the jazz and classical fields. He was recently awarded the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Academy Award in Music. The prize is awarded to composers of "exceptional accomplishment" and "outstanding artistic achievement." On stage at Ozawa Concert Hall to a sold out audience in Tanglewood, Mr. Fox demonstrated his extraordinary talent in a project he calls "The Scarlatti Jazz Suite," which had its New York premiere at the Blue Note in 2007 and was featured on American Public Radio's Weekend America. JazzTimes noted, "This intriguing blend, in which a brief classical theme triggers spirited invention, swings mightily."
Fox's reinventions and mashups of classical melodies and themes (also heard in his program "Mashups in Blue," featuring music inspired by J. S. Bach, Curtis Mayfield, Robert Schumann, James Brown, Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane and his acclaimed "Monk and Bach Project" that was premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2005) have led critics like Gary Giddins to say, "Donal Fox is a remarkable pianist who has positioned himself on the cutting edge of jazz by incorporating classical techniques and melodies. the pinnacle of his achievement is found in his blending of Monk and Bach, in his vivid reimaginings of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and in such dazzling original works as 'Scarlatti Jazz Suite' and 'Italian Concerto Blues.â€™ Donal is one of a small handful of musicians who embody the promise of jazz's future."
Mr. Fox was the first African American composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony and a special guest artist of the Library of Congress in a program recorded for American Public Radio. He inaugurated the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater at the new Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston and was the first featured jazz artist to perform in the 100-year history of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Bach Festival in Bethlehem, PA, in 2007 which sold out months in advance.
Donal Fox has performed and recorded with Oliver Lake, John Stubblefield, Billy Pierce, David Murray, Elliott Sharp, Regina Carter, Andrew Cyrille, Stefon Harris, Al Foster, George Mraz, Gary Burton, Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian Scott, John Patitucci, Lewis Nash and poet Quincy Troupe. He has recorded as composer and pianist for New 'World Records, Evidence Records, Music & Arts, Passin' Thru Records, Yamaha's Original Artist Series, and Wergo Records.
Germany's Mittelbayrische Zeitung said of him, "Fox is a brilliant technician and an exquisite magician at the keyboard. From Bach's 'Preludium' emerged a tango by Astor Piazzolla as if it were the most natural thing in the world." Donal Fox is not to be missed. His music is unlike that of anyone else, while at the same time it evokes McCoy Tyner, Art Tatum, the intensity of Coltrane and of the blues, shades of Bach and Cuban music.