The Concerto de Aranjuez is a concerto for Classical Guitar and Orchestra that was composed in Paris in 1939 by the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. It is one of the few modern classical compositions to achieve widespread recognition and popularity. Just about every significant Classical Guitarist of the past fifty years has performed and recorded the piece. Although it is a three movement composition (Allegro con spirito, Adagio and Allegro gentile) it is the second movement with its slow pace, quiet melody and the interplay between the Guitar, Orchestra, Cor Anglias, Oboe and Bassoon that is the most recognized. Since its premier performance in 1940 the second movement has been re-interpreted in a number of non-classical context. The most famous non-classical interpretation is the 1960 Gil Evans / Miles Davis collaboration for the album Sketches of Spain. Over recent years the second movement has had many interpretation from the world of Rock, Jazz (including the Modern Jazz Quartet), Bluegrass (David Grisman Quintet) and Flamenco (Paco de Lucia). It has even been incorporated into film scores (the Grimthorpe Colliery Band in the movie Brassed Off). For me one of the most successful versions of the second movement is by the Jazz Guitarist Jim Hall. Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at his studios in 1975 it featured three of the most lyrical jazz soloists of that era; Jim Hall on electric guitar, Chet Baker on Trumpet and Paul Desmond on Alto sax. The recording also featured the peerless rhythmic section of Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on Bass and Steve Gadd on drums. Here is an audio YouTube clip.
The piece opens with a pizzicato bass tremolo followed by Jim Hall’s lyrical statement of the theme. Each of the soloists has ample opportunity to do justice to the magnificent melody before the rhythm section kicks in and they explore improvisational possibilities. Chet Baker’s initial statement of the theme confirms the Miles Davis comment: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.” Chet Baker outdoes Miles Davis on this one. Not as well known as Miles, Chet Baker has been a Jazz icon since his early days with the ground breaking Gerry Mulligan Quartet way back in the fifties. Afflicted with a notorious heroin habit he survived many ups and down in his career including a brutal beating by drug thugs who broke all his teeth. This almost destroyed his career and his life. With incredible fortitude he rebuilt his embouchure and technique from scratch. His popularity underwent a resurgence in the 1980’s until his final demise at the hands of drug dealers. He was thrown out of an apartment window in Paris. He died May 13, 1988. Paul Desmond is best known for his contributions to the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the composition Take Five. This was pretty close to his last recording. He was in the final stages of Lung Cancer when he recorded this and he died shortly after in May 30, 1977. Despite his failing health this is an incredible chapter in a remarkable career. Jim Hall was unique in the music industry. Not only was he one of the premier Jazz Guitarists of his generation he was a very stable individual. No abuse problems; no personality problems; married to the same woman all his adult life. If one did no know of his accomplishments one would think he led a very unremarkable life. As this recording testifies that was far from the case. Jim died quietly last year still working and innovating right up to his death. One could write volumes about the rhythm section but the drummer Steve Gadd deserves special mention. Although I have been aware of his reputation for many years this is the first time I have heard him on record. When he enters the sonic landscape of this recording his subtle percussion lifts the recording to a whole new level.
Although this recording was originally released under Jim Hall’s name the release I have been listening to is Together – Chet Baker and Paul Desmond – The Complete Studio Recordings on an EPIC CD 472984 2. I highly recommend the recording for all the tracks that it contains.
A very significant after thought: Although there are many recordings of this composition by many prominent Classical Guitarists the one that has drawn special commendation by none other than the composer himself is the 1991 version by the Flamenco Guitarist Paco de Lucia. Check the YouTube version from the documentary Paco de Lucía-Light and Shade: A Portrait.