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jazz: Two of a Kind

With Rene Marie's singing and Doug Richards' arranging, audiences should expect the unexpected.


Three years, two critically lauded MaxJazz recordings and tens of thousands of touring miles stretching from Seattle to Moscow behind her, she reunites with Richards and G.A.M.E. for a Dec. 5 performance at the Modlin Center.

It's a natural partnership, built on mutual admiration and a shared dedication to musical exploration. Marie's straightforward emotional honesty is a perfect complement to the inventive complexity of Richards' arrangements. Her intimate vocal style, so natural in small-group settings, scales easily to the sonic expanses of a large ensemble. It's a side of her captured on Richards' brilliant but as-yet-unreleased CD, "It's All in the G.A.M.E."

The program for the concert will be almost entirely from the CD. "This will be the first concert we've done that will be all my stuff," Richards says. "In the past, we have always included arrangements by someone else, like Duke Ellington."

While the all-star players of G.A.M.E. make Richards' challenging charts seem deceptively easy, his music has a density of ideas and textures that transgresses the limits of the tradition.

"Big doesn't begin to describe him," Marie says. "Doug Richards is a genius. That version of 'April in Paris' — a 5/4 tango that blends Stravinsky, chimes and Doppler-shifted sirens in an opening collage — and his version of 'Can't Stop Loving that Man of Mine.' I was expecting a lush ballad, but when I get to the rehearsal he had turned it into a Latin tune. At first I thought 'noooo,' but now I love it. It's so unexpected."

She is also looking forward to his interpretation of "Vertigo," the title song of her most recent CD, and the first of her compositions to get a big-band treatment. On the recording it is a kinetic showpiece. "It's going to be very different from the album," Richards promises.

Part of the challenge is incorporating some of Marie's most recent musical experimentations. One of the unique aspects of the singer is that, at an age when most artists have settled into a comfortable style, she is still rapidly developing in both confidence and expressive range.

"For the first time I am branching out from swing," Marie says. "There's a lot of testosterone, aggression in some of the new pieces; no namby-pamby pearls and lace, that's just not happening. They use a lot of polyrhythms with abstract chords and melodies — but not so abstract that a person might question whether it is music. Other structures that are so basic that no one would think it was jazz, it's almost a folk or pop-ballad sound."

Marie confesses to be a bit worried about how her fans will react to the nonjazz elements in her recent work. "I am always looking for new things, and they expect to hear some of their favorites. It's a challenge to blend the old with the new."

"Vertigo" will give Richmond audiences the first glimpse of the popular singer's new direction, mixed with some new ideas from Richards.

"I've been inspired a lot recently by Gy”rgy Ligeti," he says, referring to the Romanian composer whose otherworldly sonorities voiced the alien monoliths of "2001 A Space Odyssey."

"You reach the point where you have to decide to take the risk or play it safe." Marie says. "I've already taken enough risks that it would be silly not to continue." S

The Great American Music Ensemble with Rene Marie performs Thursday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Alice Jepson Theatre at the University of Richmond. Tickets cost $13-$26 and can be purchased at the box office, 289-8980.

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