Vocalists David Linx and Maria Joao, along with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, present A Different Porgy & Another Bess, a distinctive take on George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s Porgy and Bess. The original folk opera is melded with swaying jazz, big band sound and ample influences from numerous film and theatrical interpretations.
A Different Porgy & Another Bess is a project of imposing range, with no less than 11 arrangers offering takes on Gershwin standards. The program is mostly a stable chronicle, even as it missteps occasionally in finding its way around Catfish Row.
Porgy and Bess faced criticism with respect to its depiction of African Americans (along with some other assorted issues), but this has mostly faded with the passage of time. Grace Bumbry, who played Bess in the 1985 production, dealt with mixed feelings by seeing the production as “really a piece of Americana.” This record generates a more general vision and moves the material to its essentials.
That’s not always an easy task, but this “different” take permits some doors to be unlocked while preserving the honour of the opera’s core concerns.
It is Linx and Joao that hold the keys to converting this into something “different,” after all. Choosing to follow their 2007 collaboration, Changing Faces, with this recording epitomizes their confidence and artistic priorities as much as it illuminates their gifts.
The recording undertakes a musical theatre feel and blends it with jazz elements, setting the stride with Lode Mertens’ arrangement of the lesser-known “A Red-headed Woman.”
Many expected tracks appear, such as “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing” and “Summertime.” The latter is highlighted by pianist Nathalie Loriers’ astute staccato notes. Joao brings puckish consistency, subtly transforming its mood but maintaining its import.
Sometimes the vocals are overly airy and nimble. “Oh Lord, I’m On My Way” features Linx, but his performance is too smooth to convey the transcendent heart of the number. Similarly the too-beautiful “The Buzzard Song” feels exceedingly genteel.
Overall, though, A Different Porgy and Another Bess is an interesting record. It may not feature the same transformative power of the original work – and what would? – but it does afford something to chew on with its comprehensive perspective.