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Moondog 14 pieces arr Joanna MacGregor

Britten Sinfonia / soloists / MacGregor (keyboard / director)


Sound Circus MRNTK4


Like Moondog himself, this is an eclectic mixture, crossover in the intellectual rather than marketing sense, in that it combines jazz, classical and ‘world' (Native American) elements.


MacGregor's arrangements and performances are characteristically lively and challenging. The Britten Sinfonia, and, among the soloists, Andy Sheppardon (saxophones) in particular, plays with an incisive commitment that is never wearing.


The lyricism of Voices of Spring, the energy of Dog Trot and Rabbit Hop, the depth of Invocation, all are distinctive facets of a composer who was in every sense ‘on the edge'. The disc's title, Sidewalk Dances reminds us of Moondog's refusal to be on the main carriageway, although he was adept at expressing himself in many kinds of music, not least classical canon writing. These are some of his best-known pieces.


Does this kind of crossover work? On the one hand, the jazz influence in classical music (Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Gerschwin) is so well established to be completely institutionalised. On the other hand, there are all kinds of experiments (the RPO plays rock, and so on) which have never made it out of the gimmick basket.


This kind of disc, with its chamber scale, and its closeness to the originals, has easily enough stylistic fidelity to be harmonious listening; moreover, to transform something that is already a mixture of styles is relatively unproblematic.


It would be interesting to know who, apart from existing Moondog fans, will buy this disc, as it is, like its original inspiration, completely unclassifiable. This is certainly music that deserves to be better known, and there is no doubt that the participants were lucky in being able to put together such a project. But no luckier than we listeners are.


Ying Chang