ALBANY – Let’s face it, rock-meets-classical crossover events rarely satisfy either end of the musical spectrum. So it was anyone’s guess what might happen when Stewart Copeland (former drummer for the superstar rock trio the Police) teamed up with Canadian classical pianist Jon Kimura Parker and friends at the Massry Center of the Arts on Thursday night.
But lo and behold, the quintet fired up an evening of mashed-up music that was not only successful, but also actually quite thrilling.
They launched into the concert like gangbusters – Copeland almost dashing across the stage to jump behind his drum kit and immediately fire up his “Birds of Prey,” a sparkling, almost frantic tune that he originally penned for a ballet. The piece was loaded with as much bash-and-crash as sturm-und-drang, and it served notice that although the concert was billed with Copeland and Parker’s names, it was violinist Yoon Kwon (on loan from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) who was the focal point and key ingredient in the band.
Another Copeland piece, introduced by Copeland as “Convergence or Coincidence,” but also known as “Coincidence or Convergence,” followed, and a mid-section Copeland-Parker duet set the stage for the following piano-and-drums exploration of Prokofiev’s Finale from Piano Sonata No. 7, an explosive bit of classical (Parker) and improv (Copeland) that they aptly titled “Prok and Roll.”
Kwon was simply marvelous and magnetic throughout the evening, especially on Paul Scoenfield’s “Who Let the Cat Out Last Night?,” (a wildly eclectic duet with Parker that veered from avant hoedown to honky-tonk blues). Martinez’s brightest moments came during the Copeland/Stanley Clarke composition, “Rebop,” at once slinky and propulsive.
Then they really pushed the envelope with a sprawling, 20-minute piece that began with Parker solo on Ravel’s “Adagio from Piano Concerto in G.” Soon, the rest of the band dug in, shifting into the trippy electronica of Outside’s “To Forgive But Not Forget” and then the swinging jazz of Mike Garson‘s “Paganini Variations.”
All of which led to the climactic, 12-minute re-invention of Stravinsky’s notorious classic, “Rite of Spring,” a volcanic interpretation which featured Judd Miller on his Electronic Valve Instrument. Throughout the night, his EVI sounded at times like a French horn, a bassoon and multiple other instruments, but here he made the famous opening motif sound like he was playing a pan flute deep in caverns of reverb.