Freedom Over Everything by Vince Mendoza is one of the most significant orchestral jazz releases of 2021 in prospect. A collaboration with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Julia Bullock, Joshua Redman, Antonio Sánchez, Derrick Hodge and The Roots' Black Thought, the album opens with Mendoza’s 5-movement ''Concerto for Orchestra''. Its 5th movement 'Justice and the Blues' draws on the wisdom of Dr Cornel West: “Justice is what Love looks like in public” and "The Blues responds to the catastrophic with compassion, without drinking from the cup of bitterness''
Vince Mendoza: ''I have been using both the classical and jazz lens in my music ever since I grew up listening to the radio and studying my instruments and scores. The languages of each style are different, but in the end we are all telling stories, using similar tools of shapes, colours, and rhythm. Jazz is written from the perspective of the player, so a lot of what goes into these stories should include opportunities for the improviser to contribute a chapter to the story. In contrast, the genesis and development of a classical work’s structure and language is most often through the vision of the composer. There is more writing (and less improvising) on Freedom Over Everything as a result. I am keen to make use of the orchestra to tell my story, but I always seek to retain my jazz sensibilities, especially with rhythm and colours. On the other hand, an improviser’s commentary on a written part can give an immediate human spirit to an idea. For example, Josh Redman’s perfect solo in the 'Meditation' movement of the “Concerto for Orchestra” or Jan Hasenöhrl’s Cat Anderson squalls in the 'American Noise' section of the “Concerto.”
''Many years ago I was asked by Jan Hasenöhrl to come to Prague to conduct a concert with the CNSO that he called Trumpet Summit. It featured Jan plus my dear friends (and mentors!) Bobby Shew and Randy Brecker. It was an opportunity to combine the colours of the orchestra with 3 great trumpeters and improvisers. Also, to hang around these great trumpet players. Subsequently, Jan commissioned the “New York Stories” trumpet concertino, and after that the “Concerto For Orchestra.” I am most grateful to Jan for his interest in my compositions, and for providing fresh material in new vocabularies for the orchestra over the years.
''I have always wanted to write music and be in the studio. My earliest memories of thinking of a life in music was hearing recordings of studio orchestras playing with R&B, pop and soul singers. The radio was so rich with many types of music in those days, a lot of them orchestrated. Thom Bell and the Philly Soul Sound featuring strings and brass, percussion, and Arif Mardin’s orchestrations for Atlantic, come to mind. I dreamt about being a part of that scene. For me, the instruments that I studied were vehicles into the music that I loved and wanted to explore. I also studied piano, acoustic bass and drums, not to mention a tortured short period of violin. Being a part of the creation of music via an instrument was so important, and still is.
''Speaking a similar musical language is part of a successful musical partnership, but generosity is a big part of it too. I have been so blessed over the years to work with musicians that are not only immensely talented and skilled, but generous enough to share their voice inside of my stories, to make them so much more vibrant and interesting. The same is true with Freedom Over Everything. So many generous people contributed to these stories. For the “Concerto for Orchestra” it was important for me to find a rap voice and text that resonated with the story and message that I wanted to convey. I have always loved The Roots, their sound and their music, and thought that Black Thought was unique to understand where I wanted to go with the message of the Concerto. He created a strong and moving text. I asked Derrick Hodge and Paul Jackson Jr. to contribute, and they knew exactly where to put it to make it feel right. Julia Bullock resonated with Rilke’s message of encouragement and light, which she brought so beautifully to us in “To The Edge Of Longing.” Antonio Sánchez played with great colour and motion, and with a composer’s instinct to move in and around the orchestral textures. All generous and talented artists.
''A concerto for orchestra is traditionally written to feature soloists inside of the orchestra. In this case, not only are the orchestra soloists required to play their parts, but also play with a rhythm section. Sometimes with a swing and blues inflection all at the behest of a conductor telling them to groove. It was a tall order. Jan and the CNSO accomplished this beautifully.
''Everything I needed to know about music I got from Bach and Louis Armstrong, for obvious reasons. My early influences, however ranged from Stevie Wonder and Henry Mancini, to Brahms and Alban Berg, especially for his lyricism and colour. Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter taught me about the elasticity of structure. Bob Brookmeyer taught me about the elasticity of everything. Stravinsky. Maurice White. Burt Bacharach. Gil Evans. Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington came late to my party, and now I wonder how I could have survived without them. Decades later their music is always fresh and has something to teach me.'' Freedom Over Everything is to be released by Modern on 4 June