First CD Release!



Jazzing Up a Show

The idea of a jazz-Broadway recording in which a single artist (or duo or band) devotes a whole album to music from a single show goes back at least as far as 1944. That's when trumpeter and bandleader Charlie Spivak, on a set of 78 rpm records, played four selections from "Porgy & Bess" (even then regarded as an American classic). And in the decades since, which have seen the breakout success of "Porgy" albums by the combinations of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (1957) and Miles Davis and Gil Evans (1958), the "folk opera" by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward is almost certainly the most covered score in jazz history. So it's not altogether surprising that the latest jazz-show album to cross the doorstep is "A Different Porgy & Another Bess" by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

The jazz-Broadway vogue began properly in 1956 with "Shelly Manne & His Friends: Modern Jazz Performances of Songs From 'My Fair Lady,'" a best-selling LP that launched an entire cottage industry of jazz-show hybrids, many by the drummer Manne himself and his No. 1 "friend," the pianist André Previn. The new Brussels Jazz Orchestra release joins last year's "Fleet Street" by Terry Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (featuring music from Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), and "Three Penny Opera Live in Aarau" by the Renolds Jazz Orchestra, in showing that jazz interpretations of Broadway scores by full-sized orchestras is thriving.

"A Different Porgy & Another Bess" comes out of the long history of vocal-driven interpretations of the folk opera, which often involve juxtapositions of elements from classical and pop music, as well as jazz and Broadway. As in the versions by, say, Ray Charles and Cleo Laine or Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, all the songs written for male characters are sung by David Linx and the female parts are handled by Portuguese singer Maria João. But that is the only way this version is in the least traditional: The 11 orchestrations, each by a different arranger, paint an array of tonal pictures behind and around the singers, including lots of funk backbeats.

"I Love You, Porgy" (the Catfish Row ebonics having now been dropped) immerses both singers in a dizzying backdrop of swirling counterpoint; the melody and the narrative would be hard to follow if we didn't know the material so well. "Clara, Clara, Don't Be Downhearted," one of Heyward's gospel-styled texts, achieves an entirely different and more secular feel from the prayer it usually is. Sung by Ms. João in a tight, pinched voice, it's now more swinger than spiritual. At different points, a Fender Rhodes piano takes a solo, and Ms. João harmonizes wordlessly with the horns. Like most jazz-show albums, "A Different Porgy & Another Bess" picks and chooses from the full score, and reorders the songs for its own purposes.

"Three Penny Opera Live in Aarau" by the Renolds Jazz Orchestra, however, offers the complete Kurt Weill score from beginning to end, rendered instrumentally, with an all-star orchestra that includes such American headliners as the trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Bobby Watson, trombonist Buster Cooper and drummer Victor Lewis. Given the completeness of the project—a full two hours long—it is especially puzzling that the Weill estate decided to suppress the recording. The double album was taped live in Switzerland in 2000. But, according to a press release from the Shanti Records label, the estate decided after the concert was finally released in 2011 that it didn't approve of the "rearrangements" (by pianist Christian Jacob) and demanded that the CDs be withdrawn from the market. In addition to following the show order, Mr. Jacob's charts generally retain the tempos and moods of each piece—very effectively in the "The Jealous Duet," where Polly Peachum and Lucy Brown are played instrumentally by a feuding trumpet and trombone, their animosity resolved by an alto saxophone that takes the ballad part of the melody. It's impossible to understand the rationale of the composer's estate—this is an inspired interpretation of a work by a composer who was a major jazz fan himself. Surely Weill would have wanted it to be heard.

"Fleet Street" is another stunner, the work of Mr. Vosbein, a composer and arranger who teaches composition at Washington and Lee University and is far from a household name. This full-length instrumental treatment of "Sweeney Todd," Mr. Sondheim's 1979 masterpiece, is not only a tribute to Mr. Sondheim, but also to bandleader Stan Kenton; the overall groove and tonal colors of "Fleet Street" owe much to Kenton's classic 1962 jazz version of "West Side Story" (with lyrics also by Mr. Sondheim).

Like Kenton's arranger Johnny Richards, Mr. Vosbein relies heavily on deeply voiced trombones to paint a dark, somber portrait—highly suited to a heavy melodrama about serial killing and cannibalism. But while "West Side Story" is a dance-oriented show with lots of songs in tempo, Mr. Vosbein has to look hard for lighter moments in the "Sweeney Todd" score, and he makes the most of them. "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" is almost a throwaway on stage, but it now becomes a major part of "Fleet Street," as do the two versions of "Johanna" (reflecting the way it's sung in Act 1, as a ballad, and Act 2, much more upbeat).

One can only hope that this is hardly the conclusion of the tradition: I'd love to hear the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra commission an interpretation of "The Book of Mormon" or the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra's takes on "Evita" and "In the Heights." The combination of jazz and musical theater proves that there's more than one way to tell a story.

Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.

CD reviews: 'Three Penny Opera' gets a great jazz makeover

By staff and wire reports

Sunday, September 11, 2011


'Three Penny Opera'

Renolds Jazz Orchestra (Shanti)

Fritz Renold and Christian Jacob deserve much praise for their ambition alone. But success in their jazz restatement of "Three Penny Opera" is an even greater victory. On a two-CD set, Renold leads his band through a 24-piece version of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht classic. It is wonderful, save for its version of the work's most famous song, "Mack the Knife." It gets a rather ordinary swing treatment that is nowhere near the cleverness of "Call From the Grave" or "Fight About the Property." But that is a minor issue. Recorded live in the Swiss city of Aarau, the band adds a driving, original, "Warehouses Blues," as an encore. Featured stars on this powerful effort include trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Bobby Watson and bassist Miroslav Vitous.

— Bob Karlovits


Jazz Society of Oregon

CD Reviews - August 2011 

by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Reviews by George Fendel


Three Penny Opera, Renolds Jazz Orchestra.
The year 2000 marked the centennial observance of the birthday of composer Kurt Weill. Eventually, this inspired this International Orchestra to produce a two-CD set featuring 24 selections of Weill's compositions for "The Three Penny Opera." This work was first performed in 1928, and it is played here instrumentally as opposed to the vocals in the original version. Thanks to Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and many others, the most famous song from this work is "Mack The Knife." The orchestra truly has an international flavor, but the Americans on board include Bobby Watson and Walt Weiskopf, reeds; Wayne Bergeron and Randy Brecker, trumpets; Buster Cooper, trombone; Christian Jacob, piano; and Victor Lewis, drums. In a stirring live performance, this gifted orchestra, chosen according to the requirements of each specific production, engages the listener in interpreting Kurt Weill's varied entries. Varied tempos, moods, and even a little playfulness dot the landscape in this impressive production.
Shanti Records, 2011, two cd's: 54:35 and 61:49.


FAME Review: Renolds Jazz Orchestra - Three Penny Opera, Live in Aarau
Renolds Jazz Orchestra - Three Penny Opera, Live in Aarau

Three Penny Opera,
Live in Aarau

Renolds Jazz Orchestra

Shanti Records 020911-3

Available from Renolds Jazz Orchestra's online store.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker


The last time I reviewed the scintillatingly intelligent Renolds Jazz Orchestra (here), I took the opportunity to rip into the Christian aspect of that disc, The Cube, provoking an interesting but amiable set of communications with one of the ensemble's members. That, certainly, was vastly preferrable to the conflagration invoked when I tore Mike Scott a new one over at Rural Rhythms (and if any of the RJO members were ruffled by my disdain of Xianity in their critique three years ago, they may wish to read the Scott review and be somewhat conciliated). However, I indulged said behavior only after lauding the RJO players' rare virtues alongside the composer's distinctive style, a blend of heady trad, symphonic, and outside jazz sounds. Fritz Renolds is a cat to be reckoned with, he recruits stellar talent, and it's no mistake that he's respected by anyone who lays an ear to his work.

Well, Kurt Weill was decidedly non-Christian, a socialist, and a radical who once was amused when his collaborator, the infamous genius writer Bertolt Brecht, and he failed to set Marx's Communist Manifesto to music, Weill somewhat reticent in that particular aspect of the venture. The attempt, however, was what produced the well-known Threepenny Opera, this disc's subject matter. As before, the band here includes honored vets Randy Brecker and Miroslav Vitous, though every member is a superior musician. Many are the solos and just as numerous the influences and stylings—catch the Brubeckian take on Instead of Song, f'rinstance. One is also as likely to encounter a ululatingly enthralling Pharaoh Sanders cum Anthony Braxton voicing (Wedding Song for the Poor) as the aforementioned Dave, with Freddie Hubbardisms, Steve Coleman inflections, and of course the personalities and mindsets of the players themselves tossed in for a constantly morphing landscape. Everything is a kaleidoscope of surpassing skill and coloration.

The 2-CD set is live, just shy of two hours, and not a minute goes by that you're either grinning from ear to ear or startled by the sheer unceasing brilliance of it all. I'm somewhat reminded of leviathan efforts by such as Carla Bley (Escalator Over the Hill), Centipede (Septober Energy), and precious few others, not necessarily in tone and temper, though there are quite large sympathies here, but in breadth and daring. Then there's the set of aesthetics that wisely re-sets parameters in an age in which sprawling experimentation is too often the rule in a miasma wherein antecedents are not always well understood by fresh-faced bravos a bit too impetuous, sometimes jumping the shark by way of his fearsome teeth. No fear of that here, mate. Normally, I'd lament the absence of Helen Savari-Renold's enchanting vocals, so pleasing in Cube and which would have worked well with Brecht's libretto in this melange of delirious delights (especially given the carpet of innovations in this Three Penny), but, well, the result is so damned good that objections to anything at all would be petulant and counter-productive, not to mention crass. Thus, if it's all the same to you, dear reader, I'll stop here, sit back, close my eyes, and run through the entire 25-song cycle again. Pass the merlot, if you please, and join me.


Track List:

Disc One Disc Two
  • Overture
  • Mack the Knife
  • Mr. Peachum's Morning Hymn
  • Instead of Song
  • Wedding Song For the Poor
  • Cannon Song
  • Love Song
  • Barbara Song
  • The Uncertainty of Human Conditions
  • Polly's Farewell Song
  • The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
  • Pirate Jenny
  • The Procurer's Ballad
  • The Ballad of the Pleasant Living
  • The Jealous Duet
  • Fight About the Property
  • What Keeps A Man Alive
  • The Song About Inadequacy
  • Song of Solomon
  • Call From the Grave
  • Macheath Asks For Forgiveness
  • The Riding Messenger
  • Three Penny Finale
  • The Final Verses of the Ballad
  • Warehouses Blues


All songs written by Kurt Weill
except Warehouses Blues (Fritz Renold).

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.


Renolds Jazz Orchestra Three Penny Opera Shanti Records 2011

Renolds Jazz Orchestra Three Penny Opera Shanti Records 2011

Opera is an acquired taste.
I rank that right along side my mother's comment as a child that I would "learn to like" my vegetables if I would eat more of them. Thus far swing and a miss on both accounts.
The musical question here is can what is universally considered by critics as a fair to mediocre opera make the transition to jazz orchestra?
The Three Penny Opera which was first performed in 1928 was the end result of the collaboration of playwright Berthold Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. For those unfamiliar with Opera allow me to quickly catch you up, Broadway from eastern Europe with one central theme that overshadows the plot sequence of the performance. In bringing myself up to speed I noticed that Wikipedia stated the theme as "A Marxist Critique Of The Capitalist World" the 1928 moral equivalent of an Obama State of The Union message which raises the dramatic question who is the greater criminal - the bank robber or the individual who founded the bank.
Pianist Christian Jacob ( Tierney Sutton's pianist ) does a brilliant job in scoring this work for small orchestra. The Renolds Jazz Orchestra includes Randy Brecker, Bobby Watson and Victor Lewis among others for this 2000 live performance recorded at Saalbau Aarau.
The Renolds Jazz Orchestra has received critical acclaim for other works and the Three Penny Opera should be no exception. This successful transition to jazz orchestra captures the theatrical intensity and integrity of the opera by means of western jazz improvisation while never losing sight of the thematic development of the original work.
A musical hybrid of improvisation where the soloist takes on the role of each character which brings new meaning to the old saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. There are no vocals on this performance and none are needed again thanks to the brilliance with which this piece was scored by Christian Jacob.
In short......a great recording, a stunning transition from a fair opera to a highly creative orchestral jazz work.
Buy or Sell?
Available in Europe now with a U.S. release date of 09/27/11
For more information check out
Thanks to Michael Bloom Media Relations for their continued help!


Renolds Jazz Orchestra - Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau - Shanti Records

A very European jazz project—an instrumental jazz version of the music from Kurt Weill's Three Penny Opera.


Published on August 24, 2011

Renolds Jazz Orchestra - Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau - Shanti Records

Renolds Jazz Orchestra - Three Penny Opera (KURT WEILL) Live in Aarau - Shanti Records 020911-3 (2 CDs), 112 min. total **** [9/26/11]:

(15-piece band incl. Fritz Renold, Bobby Watson, Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous & Victor Lewis)

Fritz Renold and Helen Savari-Renold are musicians and the organizers of the jazzaar music educational festival each year in Aarau, Switzerland.  The orchestra presents premieres of original works and new versions of standard repertory, using a variety of musicians from different areas who are chosen according to the needs of the particular production being mounted. In 1999 they did a Duke Elllington tribute concert with some members of the Ellington band in the orchestra. The next year was the centennial of the birth of Kurt Weill, and the RJO performed their instrumental version of the celebrate work which was premiered in Berlin in 1928.  Weill’s well-known tunes and less-familiar music were arranged by Christian Jacob.

This is a recording of the concert given in April 2000 in Aarau, and two CDs are required for the 25 separate tracks. The Renolds wanted to commemorate Weill’s creative expression in an exclusive way, and have done so. The project is a very European jazz one. I don’t think any ensemble in the U.S. would conceive of an instrumental work of 112 minutes length, creating instrumental improvisations out of the numerous songs, choruses and sung dialogs of Weill’s original operetta. The Three Penny Opera, with its lyrics by Bert Brecht, is a very distinctive musical creation—a sort of Marxist critique of the capitalist world, with an amoral antihero at its center and plenty of coarse language not previously heard on the opera stage. (It was Weill and Brecht’s reworking of John Gay’s 18th century The Beggar’s Opera.) Though its Berlin premiere was not a huge success, it eventually had 400 performances during the following two years.

Marc Blitzstein did a clever English translation of The Three Penny Opera, and it has been very popular thruout the West. “Mack the Knife” is now a jazz standard, and “Pirate Jenny” has been recorded by many female vocalists. But aside from some vocalists’ collections of cabaret-type songs, the other tunes are not well known or much heard.  Jacob’s arrangements were not written until after the various band members were selected, so he was writing individually just for them, as Ellington did for his players.  There is a nice variety in the instrumentation - it’s not all saxes and brass.  The woodwinds are frequently heard, and quite a bit of jazz flute. It is obvious that many of the musicians are top-flight soloists on their own.  The notes speak of an added theatrical element to the performance: the musicians wore mis-matched outfits to look something like the beggars of the operetta. The final track is a sort of encore: a 12-minute blues arrangement by the band.

TrackList:  1. Overture 4:52  2. Mack the Knife 7:41  3. Mr Peachum's Morning Hymn 5:11  4. Instead of Song 5:09  5. Wedding Song For the Poor 3:32  6. Cannon Song 5:15  7. Love Song 2:12  8. Barbara Song 5:33  9. The Uncertainty of Human Conditions 4:25  10. Polly's Farewell Song 2:35  11. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency 4:09  12. Pirate Jenny 3:55  13. The Procurer's Ballad 5:27  14. The Ballad of the Pleasant Living 4:30  15. The Jealous Duet 5:42  16. Fight About the Property 4:27  17. What Keeps A Man Alive 4:23  18. The Song About Inadequacy 1:35  19. Song of Solomon 4:49  20. Call From the Grave 3:21  21. Macheath Asks For Forgiveness 6:40  22. The Riding Messenger 6:27  23. Three Penny Finale 0:58  24. The Final Verses of the Ballad 1:22  25. Warehouses Blues 12:03

— John Henry


SHANTI (Records)

RENOLDS JAZZ ORCHESTRA/The Penny Opera: Here's an easy one. The organizers of a jazz festival in Austria invite the crème of the jazz world over to deliver the goods on "Three Penny Opera' in honor of Kurt Weill's birth centennial. Your fave jazzbos enjoy the freedom the Euros encourage, everyone is familiar with the songs and probably knows each other's work---and the double disc that ensues is first rate listening jazz that offers a new take on an 80 year old work. It's just flat out killer stuff that gives you a you-are-there feeling and you wish you were. Dude, this is a one of kind, real deal. Check it out!

Volume 34/Number 291
August 20, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2011 Midwest Record


Upcoming: Country, blues-jazz blends
Posted:  09/13/2011 6:45 PM

COUNTRY SUPERSTARS and a super blues/jazz combo are among the sounds that got our ears in this week's new releases batch.

TWANG LITE: I'm not hearing anything quite as universally appealing as "Need You Now" on "Own the Night" (Capitol, B), Lady Antebellum's follow-up to their 2009 megahit. But the trio's country/pop-crossover fan base will find plenty that's sonically shiny, harmonious and otherwise agreeable. And please to note how tech-savvy they are, even including a QR code in the CD booklet leading smartphone users to the group's website.

Nick Lowe offers an amusingly frank, acting-his-age, down-home English take on hillbilly rock on "The Old Magic" (Yep Roc B). Elvis Costello fans will lap it up.

Columbia Masterworks probably thought they were signing Kristin Chenoweth as a Broadway/cabaret belter, but Chenoweth's coming on like a new-age, more spiritually driven Dolly Parton (she even name-checks the star) on "Some  Lessons Learned" (Masterworks, B-). Local guy Eric Bazilian helped write one of the better tracks, "Mine to Love."

FUSION FUN: Their benchmark was the 1920s New Orleans ragtime jazz and blues of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, one of the earliest recorded-music supergroups. But as "Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues - Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center" (Rhino CD &DVD, A), there's room for stylistically veering off course, mid-song, as one guy or another in the brassy 10-piece ensemble takes a solo and "goes modern" on us. Mostly they're hitting on oldies but goodies like W.C. Handy's "Careless Love." But how 'bout that slowed-down version of Clapton's "Layla"! The DVD version bundled with the CD boasts a super DTS surround mix and special guest Taj Mahal.

MORE TO SCORE: On "We Are the Tide" (Blind Pilot, B+) the blended voices and well-buffed tunes of Blind Pilot sometimes sound like a cross between Simon & Garfunkel and Vampire Weekend. Not a bad place to be.

A.A. Bondy's got that "sensitive new age balladeer" thing down quite well on "Believers" (Fat Possum, B).

Ladytron might fill your craving for dreamy, female-fronted synthpop on "Gravity the Seducer" (Nettwerk, C+), but you'll probably be hungry an hour later.

Fans of growly Dust Bowl rock (à la J.J. Cale 'n' Clapton) should beg for an infusion of Ray Bonneville on "Bad Man's Blood" (Red House, A), a "sleeper" of a set that really woke me up.

GLOBAL BEATS: Also catching me by surprise: Renolds Jazz Orchestra's double-disc take on "Three Penny Opera" (Shanti, B+); florid keyboardist Avishai Cohen's journey on the "Seven Seas" (Sunnyside, B); the haunting, multi-language Afro-reggae grooves of Tiken Jah Fakoly on "African Revolution" (Wrasse, B); and the raga rave-ups of "Rock the Tabla" (ARC Music, B) featuring Hossam Ramzy and an all-star crew (Billy Cobham, A.R. Rahman, Manu Katche).