At the end of September, trumpeter Rex Richardson and composer/bandleader Doug Richards were invited to Australia to debut two ambitious new concertos at the Melbourne International Festival of Brass (MIFB). They'll repeat the performance Nov. 1 at the Singleton Center, this time featuring many of the area's best players, in what promises to be a highlight of the 2006 musical season.
Globe-spanning jaunts are frequent for Richardson, a world-class trumpet soloist whose virtuosity encompasses the intellectual discipline and microtonal precision required for modern classical pieces and the freewheeling emotional clarity essential to jazz. Musical travel is less common for Richards, whose prodigious gifts in composition and arranging require many players to realize.
It's a complementary collaboration. Richardson provides a strong solo voice capable of handling Richard's most challenging passages, and Richards has become both a friend and a mentor. "I never wrote anything of this scope before," Richardson says of his Concerto for Jazz Trumpet, Rhythm Section and Brass Band.
"Of course, Doug's work was an influence, and he also made some phrasing suggestions that made the piece easier to play," Richardson says.
The concerto is an assured work, divided into three idiosyncratically named, formally linked movements: Groove, Grieve and Burn. "I was using third-stream language," the trumpeter says, "mixing classical formats with jazz and hip-hop rhythms."
While boundaries are stretched -- 7/4, not a common time signature for brass bands -- the players can still connect to the music." The vocabulary is totally in keeping with the brass band tradition," Richards says. "And it was an extraordinary group. Typical of community brass, they had everything from plumbers to physicians, and enough kids to bring that youthful energy to the older players."
And they could roll with the punches. The first rehearsals, the morning before the performance, the practice room was in a shambles and everyone was still recovering from the previous night's marathon big-band gig with stratospheric trumpeter Bobby Shew. Richardson's piece was only half the challenge. "Some people knew me," the trumpeter says, "but nobody knew Doug. They were wondering, Who is this guy and why has he written this crazy music? But by the end of the first movement, they were won over."
Richards' Intercontinental Concerto for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra is a work in progress five movements, each representing the musical traditions of a different continent. (A sixth planned movement, for Africa, has yet to be written.) Each movement features Richardson playing a series of trumpet varieties.
Asia, inspired by ancient gagaku music, features piccolo trumpet; the Europe movement is loosely based on a Bach chorale and features flügelhorn. The Australian section incorporates the native didgeridoo and the very British-sounding cornet. The North America echoes Cootie Williams' early jazz sonorities, the horn played with a plunger. The piece ends with South America and Brazilian samba played on an open trumpet.
The Australian band handled the steeplechase of styles and instruments with aplomb. "They were extraordinary," Richards enthuses. "They played it straight down the middle, everybody feeding off everyone else, always sensitive to what needed to happen."
Both Richards and Richardson are looking forward to bringing the music home. While they won't have the festival's international all-star brass lineup, they will have a select group of VCU students and alumni and a great rhythm section, including Daniel Clarke on piano, Trey Pollard and Kevin Harding on guitars, Curtis Fye on bass and the indispensable, lone non-VCU player Brian Jones on drums. For this music, these highly attuned players may be the best in the world. S
The North American premiere of "The Music of Doug Richards and Rex Richardson" takes place Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. at the Singleton Center. Admission is free, but seats must be reserved. Call 828-6776.