Jon Lord has reached a new level with his efforts to merge modern rhythmical music with the orchestral world. This became apparent Saturday night at Budapest‘s Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. The musical gods smiled down on a near-sold out Hungarian audience as they witnessed the world premiere of Jon Lord’s reworked Sarabande suite performed in full.
And quite fitting it is too that Lord would premiere this exact work here, inspired as it is largely by traditional music from this part of the world. With him onstage were local Deep Purple tribute band Cry Free and the Györ Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Márton Rácz. With Kasia Łaska as Jon Lord’s mainstay female vocalist and Attila Scholtz as stand-in for Steve Balsamo on male voice, it was a very strong lineup.
So let’s go back and relive that magical night.
During soundcheck, Jon Lord is working to get the sound levels just right between the band and the orchestra. He lets orchestra and band run through Pictures Of Home and wanders out front to hear the sound from the audience’s point of view.
Sarabande comprises the evening’s first half, and is the main attraction of a concert that proves both victorious and glorious in all its musical splendour. The orchestra delivers an enthusiastic performance, strong and competent. We’re also treated to a fair few surprises along the way.
The Sarabande album has always been a crown in Jon Lord’s catalogue, and with its new 2010 reworked arrangement, Lord has finally fully completed the work he started in a Californian beach house in 1974. And what a joy it is to behold.
Concerto for Group and Orchestra was Lord’s first attempt at dispensing with the separation between the two hitherto separated musical worlds of modern and classical music. He was very successful at this – and he continued with the Gemini Suite and Windows albums.
In 1975 Sarabande seemed like the conclusion of this venture. Even it wasn’t quite how Lord had planned it. Time contraints meant he hadn’t fully orchestrated all the pieces in the suite, recording some with only orchestra and some with only keyboards. A revisit in 2010 has taken care of all that, and all the changes have benefitted the piece and made it even grander and more eloquent – and more entertaining.
A celebration of joy, brimming with infectious grooves and catchy tunes, Sarabande 2010 underlines Jon Lord’s masterful skill at utilising all parts of the orchestra.
Opening with Fantasia, you are transported off to a different place as this music comes truly alive for the first time onstage. Hearing Sarabande from start to finish has been a dream for years, and now the 2010 rearranged version provides joy, exaltation and even disbelief at what the musicians are delivering.
Sarabande, the ‘title piece’ itself, is pure excellence, as is Aria, now heard orchestrated for the first time.
With only a minor blunder in the opening to Gigue (‘I looked down at my hands and thought ‘what are you doing’ and they looked back up at me and asked the same thing,’ Lord recounts after the concert), the musicianship and virtuosity on display tonight is impressive. Cry Free are not just a clever DP tribute band who know their way around all the classics, they are highly skilled musicians able to handle many types of music.
Drummer Tamá Tatai delivers an invigorating drum solo that is entertaining, diverse and imaginative as it includes singer Attila Scholtz on skillfull percussion in a drumming duet. Indeed, Scholtz fills out the role as percussionist when he is not busy at the microphone.
The new arrangement of Pavane integrates the orchestral and band elements from the original album in a much more cohesive form that developes into a sweeping jazzy sensation. Cry Free guitarist Olivér Lee puts in a perfect rendition of Andy Summers‘ original acoustic guitar parts. It offers a moment of breathing space in Sarabande’s otherwise very intense and drama ladden narrative.
Caprice is another all-new arrangement which now involves the entire orchestra. It is short and hectic and leads straight into the Finale. For this Lord has invented something quite ingenious and right on the edge of the imaginable. The original album version relied on tape loops and studio trickery to create the ‘parade of themes’ weaving in and out. In the new concert arrangement, Jon Lord and the band keep a steady beat while the orchestra fades itself in and out presenting the various themes.
This schizophrenic delivery makes for highly entertaining listening as the orchestra performs the various themes at their original tempos and feel – and leaves the listener confounded in his attempts to keep up. This has got to be heard to be believed.
Missing only the Gavotte – a still unfinished segment from the Sarabande suite – the 1975 piece shows itself in all its rhythmical and melodic gorgeousness. Groovy, explosive, quiet, swinging, storming, rocking – Sarabande is full on musical entertainment from first to last.
And all of this is just the concert’s first half. It leaves you emotionally and physically charged. Jon Lord himself is probably more affected than most. During the intermission, he paces the dressing room, bursting with adrenalin and joy over a splendid concert premiere of the complete Sarabande suite.
For the Telemann Experiment, the orchestra’s percussionist positions himself and his tambourine next to the Cry Free’s drummer, ensuring the two are in perfect synch throughout a blisteringly fresh and bubbly rendition of this Jon Lord neoclassic from the Beyond the Notes album.
New to the programme are a couple of Deep Purple songs. The first one is Lazy, done with just the band – ‘I struggled for days to find out how to get the orchestra in on that one but I couldn’t,’ Lord remarks. It’s a blisteringly version and it gives Lord a chance to let rip in eloquent Hammond style – to the unrestrained joy from certain sections of the audience. Cry Free also take the opportunity to stretch out with Atttila Scholtz putting in a fine performance on the harmonica.
If Sarabande provided the evening’s high profile musical attraction and tour-de-force, Perfect Strangers comes in as a close second in terms of impressive musical grandeur. Presented in a brand new definitive arrangement that starts with a gypsy-style intro from the orchestra and then takes the listener on a fragmented journey, it eventually leads into a superb slice of majestic orchestral rock, rivalling all previously heard versions of this classic, including Deep Purple’s excellent 1993 and 1999 renditions with and without orchestra. No small acccomplishment.
Wait a While is about loss and dealing with it, and once again Kasia Łaska immerses herself in the song’s sadness. But her real moment of brilliance comes with Pictured Within. Normally sung by Steve Balsamo, he had to pull out of this concert, and Kasia Łaska has taken over. During the soundcheck she feels unsure of the song – even if she delivers a beautiful version – but at the concert a little bit of magic appears.
Kasia takes an incredibly tender and restrained approach to the song, seizing the moment and pulling previously unheard emotions out of a song that has already been superbly performed by singers as accomplished as Miller Anderson, Ian Gillan and Steve Balsamo. A song’s impact can be measured in its ability to invoke emotions, and Kasia Łaska’s soft voiced Pictured Within hits a nerve and pulls a tear from the eye. Breathtaking.
Several times during the evening, Lord takes the opportunity to stand up and stretch out both musically and physically at the Hammond organ. This is received with spontaneous exclaimations of joy from the crowd, which in turn afford prolonged and enthusiastic applause to Sarabande, Perfect Strangers and Child In Time in particular.
As the concert concludes in the musical explosion that is Child In Time – Cry Free again excelling in a Purple classic – the audience rush to their feet with a resounding celebration of the evening’s musical performance, one that easily sits right up there among the very best that Jon Lord has taken part in – bar none.
For the rest of 2010 Jon Lord will alternate between Sarabande and Concerto for Group and Orchestra for the first half of his concerts, followed by a second half containing solo and Deep Purple pieces. See the Concerts page.
Pictures of Home
The Sun Will Shine Again
Wait a While
Soldier of Fortune
Child in Time
Review & (soundcheck) photos: Rasmus Heide