Release date: May 7, 2021
Label: Tiger Turn
Transformation, a landmark recording from reedist Ted Nash and actress Glenn Close, is a star-studded, multidisciplinary masterwork. This Tiger Turn release features Wayne Brady, Amy Irving, Matthew Stevenson, Eli Nash, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with Wynton Marsalis
Nash and Close know a thing or two about transforming the stuff of life into art. Close, immortalized by all-consuming, Oscar-nominated roles in Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, is just as much a cultural touchstone for children of the ’90s for playing the delightfully sinister Cruella de Vil of 101 Dalmatians. Nash, long a JLCO woodwinder, has been no less brilliant as a total immersionist, earning a reputation as a prolific composer for taking compelling subject matter and transforming it into arresting musical narratives. His last two JLCO-commissioned suites for big band—Portrait in Seven Shades (2010) and Presidential Suite (2016)—met with sterling results. Among the luminaries lending their voices to that latter, Grammy-winning project was Glenn Close.
With Transformation, Close has returned for another collaboration with Nash, this time taking on a co-leading role, curating the literary source material for accompanying spoken word performances and voicing some of it herself. The chosen pieces explore the many facets of transformation in the tangible and intangible sense. “Transformation is the highest expression of change. Transformation dictates a dramatic alteration of form or character — sometimes both. The highest compliment one can give a piece of music, or writing, is that it has been transformative for the one who experiences it,” comments Nash.
From the start, Close’s literary selections prove to be compatible partners for Nash’s compositions. Actor and comedian Wayne Brady introduces “Creation, Part I” by reciting the opening lines to English poet Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid. Brady’s voice is so authoritative, it’s as though he’s relating Genesis as a first-hand account. Close, no less divinely commanding herself, joins Brady in alternating verses, while the orchestra colors the readings with expressionism steered by pianist Dan Nimmer and bassist Carlos Henriquez and punctuated by short bursts from Sherman Irby on alto saxophone and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.
“Creation, Part II” moves beyond meditations on man’s creation to his evolutionary journey, the beginnings of which are interpreted here as endearingly unsteady. Musically, this dynamic is communicated with clarity and levity, as drummer Obed Calvaire’s brushes serve as a foil for Paul Nedzela’s bass clarinet and Henriquez’s bass, which play the tune’s playfully mischievous opening theme in unison. The entrance of Chris Chrenshaw’s trombone announces a transformation is underway—from gawky and lovable to industrious and self-assured. By the time Nedzela enters with a baritone saxophone solo, man knows it’s the man. When, to close, there’s a restatement of the opening theme, the notes are the same but the music projects a more aggressive attitude; Calvaire’s ditched the brushes for sticks.
The next two tracks, “Dear Dad/Letter” and “Dear Dad/Response” make for an emotionally affecting sequence. First, Nash’s son Eli, backed by the orchestra, reads the letter he wrote several years ago, when he first came out to his father as a transgender man. “I am not changing me,” Eli says, “just my physiology, just how people see me.” Nash’s response, with an opening vamp reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” is rife with pride and unconditional love. But words do not adequately capture Nash’s depth of feeling; that’s the music’s job.
Languid and hypnotic piano from Nimmer introduces Nash’s interpretation of poet Conrad Aiken’s Preludes for Memnon. Close’s voice is flanked by Nimmer’s piano and Irby’s alto flute as she reads an excerpt about the timeless and inevitable cycle of destruction and generation of natural life. Irby and trumpeter Ryan Kisor lead woodwind and trumpet sections that recreate the imagery of the reader’s mind’s eye, while quartet work from Nimmer, Enriquez, Calvaire and Kisor leads the tune beyond the text’s blast radius.
Next is “One Among Many,” a composition that accompanies the story of formerly imprisoned political radical Judith Clarke. Calvaire’s locomotive-sounding brushes and the on-the-move quality of Henriquez’s bass ostinato, followed by low woodwinds and Nimmer’s balletic piano, conjure the aural symphony of the subway system and frame Clarke’s words of gratitude—spoken by actress Amy Irving— for the mundane freedoms taken for granted until they’re taken away. Still, her crime and its fallout continue to haunt her; she yearns to be fully transformed. The orchestration contemplates being physically free yet still seeking psychological and emotional liberty, with solos from Nimmer and Elliot Mason on trombone before a drum solo from Colvaire links the composition’s cocktail of emotions together.
On “Rising out of Hatred,” a noirish orchestration punctuated by piercing, plaintive calls from Tatum Greenblatt’s muted trumpet serves as score to the story of two college kids—one an observant Jew, the other the heir to a prominent white nationalist family— able to forge an unlikely friendship borne from their shared humanity.
Brady returns as author and spoken-word performer on “A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America (or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America).” Accompaniment is limited primarily to Henriquez and Calvaire who cultivate a coffeehouse poetry-slam vibe.
It’s on that note that we transition to “Forgiveness,” Nash’s fully instrumental interpretation of the concept. Marsalis, Nimmer, and Nedzela are featured generously here, on what is perhaps Transformation’s most symphonic piece, characterized by distinct movements, as forgiveness is not something one arrives at instantly but, instead, incrementally, in stages.
Transformation closes with “Wisdom of the Humanities” and “Reaching the Tropopause.” On the former, Irving returns to read words written by biologist E.O. Wilson that offer a stern warning to humans. Wilson marvels at mankind’s but condemns “greed and ignorance” for threatening the environment, calling for a “new transformation in the human status” if we are to save our planet. The latter, borrowed from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, sees both Brady and Close fittingly returning to lend their voices to the program’s culmination. Meanwhile, Nash’s musical response brings the words to life. Propelled by the rhythm section, Marsalis and Goines soar above the rest, first with individual solos on trumpet and tenor sax, respectively, then trading licks with each other before a dramatic ending.
It’s the type of ending that provides energy as well as the emotional and intellectual heft. It also motivates in a very immediate sense, making for a timely mixture of qualities to aid in the transformations we all seek this year.
"For those looking for a serving of thought-provoking, earnest dramatic pieces, Transformation fits the bill. And while such things might not lend themselves to very frequent plays, the dimension and density of the partnered music makes the listening experience richer in initial and follow-up listenings." Read this review here.
There's more – the concert runs 78 minutes – and that is for you to uncover and discover. First listen to "Transformations" for the words, for the stories, for the excellent narrations; then return for the music. Listen to how the music supports the words, strengthening them, echo them, and respond to the emotions, be it anger, joy, fear, or acceptance. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra shines playing this music by one its long-time members, Ted Nash. The soloists are uniformly excellent (always great to hear Wynton rise to his powers) while the rhythm section plays at its usual high standard throughout. Kudos to Glenn Close for helping to bringing this project to life and to Wayne Brady for his excellent work! As the world slowly reopens, embrace these stories and see if you can be brave as these people. Read this review here.
"The masterful actress Glenn Close and GRAMMY-winning big-band leader Ted Nash found common ground back when Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was born. Now, they have 'Transformation,' a heady new album with both their names on the sleeve." Read the feature here.
MAKING A SCENE
"The depth of the content, its social relevance, and the performances all add up to more Grammy recognition for Nash. Spend some time with this to fully absorb its many aspects." Read the review here.
Good day, Broadway World Cabaret readers, and Happy Pride! For Gay Pride Sunday we have a really special interview for you, one that I have been saving for weeks, just for today. Read this interview here.
For years Wayne Brady had been working on a one-man show about being a young Black man growing up in Orlando, but he could never finish the project. That’s until acclaimed actor Glenn Close asked him to participate in her spoken word jazz album. Read this entire feature here.
Glenn Close Talks Wanting to Play Cruella Again and Her New Jazz Album. Read the full piece here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"Performed before a live audience, this is a concert that combines artforms, using orchestrated spoken word to bridge soulful conversations about life and living." Read the full review here.
Getting up Close with Glenn and Ted Nash, new duo in jazz. Read the full feature here.
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"If this all sounds a bit 'heavy', yes it is, but I thought it was forgivably so, saved by the quality of the music, which has a freewheeling improvised quality, and also by the importance of the themes." Read the full review here.
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
"Glenn Close, here in her fifth collaboration with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and saxophonist/composer Ted Nash have built a work around the idea that it is the words and ideas that should be put first…and how about letting music have the last word." Read the full review here.
ALLA ABOUT JAZZ
"Like so many recordings arising out of this period of history surrounding the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the recording is offered as an expression of transforming forms of hardship and despair into hope and light." Read this entire review here.
"Ted Nash has created music that is thrilling, thoughtful, and illuminating without being simply illustrative...The jazz is strong enough to stand on its own but combined with Close's powerful collection of monologues, it is an inspirational, and yes, transformative experience." Review here.
LAKSHMI GOVINDRAJAN JAVERI
"The album is a patchy sonic exposition that can be more than one listening depending on where you are in your life. It is not one’s idea of leisurely listening though as a chronicle of social change, it is far more effective." Read this entire review here.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
"For the new project, Ms. Close curated the spoken segments, with a theme of positive change, and Mr. Nash conducted a 15-member band. The works on “Transformation” range from the poet Ted Hughes’s “Tales From Ovid” to a letter in which Mr. Nash’s son comes out as transgender. In addition to Ms. Close, the readers include Wayne Brady and Amy Irving." Read this review here.
LISA RESPERS FRANCE
Glenn Close has a new album and a newfound appreciation for go-go music. Read the news story here.
D. OSCAR GROOMES
"The combination of words and great music leads to an informative, engaging and rich session." Read the full review in the Summer 2021 O's Place Newsletter.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"..a musical ride through the human condition, astutely represented, compactly delivered and absolutely worth experiencing." Read this entire review in the June 2021 issue of the New York City Jazz Record here.
"..a passionate, full-band expression of unconditional love." Read the review in the July 2021 issue of Downbeat Magazine
THE WHOLE NOTE
"Ted Nash, Glenn Close, the gifted actors and the nothing-short-of-exquisite musicians of JLCO cement this recording as an artistic triumph." Read the full review in the July/August 2021 issue of The Whole Note.
Listen to Ted Nash and Glenn Close on Judy Carmichael's podcast, Jazz Inspired, here.