Today’s album is an elegantly fun one. Violinist Haerim Elizabeth Lee and pianist Alex Brown‘s My Time is Now – streaming at Spotify – includes relatively rare duo arrangements of Gershwin music along with works by living composers. The model is the same as Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz: classical violinist, jazz pianist. But true to their New England Conservatory roots (and Gershwin’s as well), these two like to improvise. They do that a little in a jaunty take of It Ani’t Necessarily So and a lot in Summertime, Brown building an enigmatic reflecting pool until Lee brings in the blues.
Most of the Gershwin arrangements (and frequent embellishments) are by his longtime violinist pal Jascha Heifetz. The Three Preludes have jaunty ragtime-flavored tradeoffs bookending a slow, somber, lyrical stroll. The duo allude to but never quite hit a bluesy strut with A Woman Is a Sometime Thing.
Their take of Bess, You Is My Woman is aptly fond, quite a contrast with the plaintive gravitas of My Man’s Gone Now. The duo bridge both those moods in Tempo Di Blues.
Short Story, a rarity, is a mashup of two early, Dvorak-influenced Gershwin miniatures, Lee’s swoops and dancing lines contrasting with Brown’s steady calm. The condensed version of An American in Paris is a playground for the two musicians, from coy exchanges to gentle rapture and an unexpected steely intensity. The album also includes three arrangements by Brown: Embraceable You, reinvented as a rather hazy nocturne; a High Romantic version of Sleepless Night; and an achingly vivid interpretation of a late work, Violin Piece to close the album.
The more recent material is hit and miss. The atonalities in Patrick Harlin‘s Tbt seem jarringly miscast in this otherwise allusively Gershwinesque, vamping prelude. Lee sails and stabs in Ellen Taaffe Zwilich‘s acerbic Fantasy For Solo Violin and Michael Daugherty‘s kinetic, distantly Appalachian-tinged Viva For Solo Violin, neither of which sound anything like Gershwin. William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost comes across as a Scott Joplin-ized bolero.
Fun fact: this is the debut recording made with George Gershwin’s personal 1933 Steinway, now housed at the University of Michigan after sitting dormant for decades in a Manhattan apartment.