There seems to be a bit of a resurgence happening with regard to the use of strings in jazz, a move seen by many to have been first legitimised by Charlie Parker back in the early 1950s. Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond and Wes Montgomery all followed suit, until the critics' harsh reception of the 1965 album Bill Evans Trio With Symphony Orchestra, deemed by many to be a step too far into the 'third stream'.
Nowadays there are many more ways to create a sound that sits somewhere between jazz and classical than simply adding a string section, and the term 'third stream' has certainly fallen out of favour, but there's still plenty of scope to revisit this rich period of jazz history and take it somewhere new. Which is exactly what Tim Garland has done with his project Re:Focus, taking an inspired collaboration by saxophonist Stan Getz and arranger Eddie Sauter, and in the process giving us a beautifully re-scored suite of tunes with immense scope to improvise.
Stan Getz's seminal (and favourite) album Focus was produced in 1961 under unusual circumstances: he'd asked Sauter to write some tunes for him employing strings, and Sauter's scores showed no horn part at all; his suggestion being that Getz would improvise throughout. The day before they were due to record, Getz's mother died, and so rather than record the suite in one sitting, the strings recorded as per the schedule and Getz went into the studio alone a few days later, listened to the recordings and then laid his lines over the top. As a result it is a vastly free, emotive and vibrant album, and Garland, treading a path that was neither too deferential nor too cavalier with the material, produced a magical performance in the perfect acoustic environment of the Wigmore Hall.
Working alongside bassist Yuri Goloubev and percussionist Asaf Sirkis, their warm-up set was dedicated to Chick Corea, opening with 'Bemsha Swing', and then treating us to probably one of the most sublime renditions of 'Crystal Silence' ever performed, with the help of the Sacconi String Quartet and violinist Thomas Gould. They also played a memorable version of 'Windows' and one of Corea's brilliant selection of tangos.
But it was the second set which was the main event, the group smiling throughout as they worked their way through the suite uninterrupted with a mood of evident delight, following the same track order as the album – including the encore for which they repeated 'I'm Late, I'm Late', the feisty track which bookends the whole album. Transforming not just the arrangements but also the titles, Garland's take on 'Her' – a dedication to Getz' late mother – is transformed into 'Maternal', evoking a different melodic elegy, and the edgy and burning 'Night Rider' becomes 'Night Flight', a chance for the strings to blur the lines and buzz with energy. Sirkis had at his disposal a set of clotales which added a lovely piquancy here and there, and the moments when Goloubev bowed his bass in unison with cellist Cara Berridge were simply delicious. But most striking of all was Garland's ability as bandleader to know just how far to push a tune, bend a note, challenge his audience, producing what must surely have been a highpoint of his stellar career.
– Sarah Chaplin