Degrees of freedom

9th June 2000 at 01:00
JAZZ WORKS FOR ENSEMBLES: Initial, Intermediate and Advanced levels. ABRSM Publishing, Teacher's Book with CD pound;14.95 at each level. Score and parts, pound;24.95 at each level.

It is a sobering thought that a mere century has seen the art of jazz migrate from the brothels of New Orleans to the ultra-respectability of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Now, there is always a welcome for new pieces for jazz ensemble, especially when the supporting materials are as thoughtfully and comprehensively assembled as they are here.

Each score collection features eight pieces, with parts for C, Bb, Eb and bass-clef instruments as well as for rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. The teacher's book provides detailed accounts of each piece. The compositions are arranged in an essentially modular way, providing intros, main tune, interludes, solos and coda. It's the task of the players, under a teacher's guidance, to decide how to build them into more complex and satisfing structures.

There is advice on improvisation and how to teach it to beginners; how to cue in solos and then to bring back the ensemble; and conventions of the genre, such as swing quavers. Probably the most interesting areas of the instructional sections are those where the relation between harmonic configurations and latent melodic properties are expounded. For example, the selection of an Aeolian (with flattened sixth) rather than a Dorian mode will result in different emphases within the improvised melodic line.

Each piece has performance notes that are considerate and informative, relating the anticipated sounds to the styles of great performers and giving clear explanations of the formal structures within which players can exercise their degrees of freedom. The CDs, recorded live, therefore give interpretative rather than definitive guidance. They should, nonetheless, provoke some lively and effective music-making.

Tom Deveson is an education consultant

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