While not one of the classics of the jazz fusion movement of the early '70s, The Guerilla Band does attempt to say something substantial and avoids the genre's commercial pitfalls. Leader Hal Galper, who went on to become an acoustic pianist of note, is heard here exclusively on electric piano. His highly electronically processed sound is unlike the playing of the Fender Rhodes' more representative players from this era, such as Joe Zawinul or George Duke. Galper's band includes brothers Mike (saxophone) and Randy Brecker (trumpet), who at this time were gaining critical acclaim with their band Dreams.
The Vienna Art Orchestra is a 15-member jazz orchestra that features the avant-garde arrangements and compositions of its leader, pianist Mathias Ruegg. This is a reissue of their 1980 debut, an important document in the post-modern jazz movement. The opening, title track is a joyous, folkish tango that's been cartoonishly toyed with, featuring three solo sections. The marimba section is also ornamented with vocalese from Lauren Newton, followed by an extremely playful horn lead that sounds like a toy instrument. The solo offering from violinist Rudi Berger has an electronically effected fusion sound. A tight, alto sax solo by Wolfgang Puschnig ties everything together neatly with a lengthy, unaccompanied performance.
Nicholas McGegan has done more for the early music movement in America than nearly anyone else, and his tireless explorations of the byways of Baroque opera have put many fascinating works into the concert hall and onto recordings. He studied piano at London's Trinity College of Music and learned to play the flute while he was there, but entertained no special desire to study historical performance.
Serse has been one of my favorite Handel operas since I first heard the old Priestman LP on Westminster (Maureen Forrester in the title role, Lucia Popp as Romilda). Despite its frequent raggedness and "harpsichord on speed" continuo, this was a thoroughly dramatic and engaging performance. I've waited for decades for a new Serse which could benefit from the new performance standards we take for granted in baroque opera today. I was strongly disposed to like this disc, since although I've found McGegan a bit uneven in the past, his more recent Handel efforts, particularly Radamisto, have been superb. I can't fault the singers or orchestra in this performance, but the dramatic spark that makes Serse so special seems to me to be missing. I went back and compared my old Priestman recording and was even more convinced that the definitive Serse is yet to come. It's surprising there haven't been more recordings, since this work has a lot of potential appeal, and is one of Handel's most accomplished pieces. Maybe I'm just too picky, but I'd love to see someone reissue the Priestman on CD– and while they are at it, his equally engaging Rodelinda (fortunately, there is better competition for the latter).