Jazz and classical. How many times have you heard a piece of music combining these styles described as "crossover," as if no genuine fusion between the two is really possible?
That fusion happened on Saturday afternoon at the Crooners Lounge and Supper Club, where Minneapolis composer Jeremy Walker's new "Jazz Art Songs" were premiered.
Walker is a staple of the Twin Cities jazz scene, and his seven new songs were written specifically for mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski and tenor Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, both of whose careers are firmly rooted in classical territory.
Two songs came out of a previous collaboration between Walker and the early music group Consortium Carissimi. "Alma Gentil" was sung with gentle sensuality by Osowski, while in the melodically seductive "Qualhor la Mano" she was shadowed by Wondemagegnehu's sweetly supportive harmony.
A different type of harmony — fractured, indeterminate, probing in the murk — underpinned Osowski's mezza voce account of "Haunted Blues," to words by Twin Cities writer Greg Foley.
Far from being strophic, with each successive verse the same as the last, "Haunted Blues" was more open-plan melodically, with the character of a classical recitativo.
Structurally, Walker pushed the envelope even further in "Open Road," its travelogue of life events extending into a sizable coda, substantially beyond the tramlines of a typical jazz or popular composition.
Jeremy Walker accompanied the singers tastefully on piano, playing mainly from jazz charts and extemporizing occasional, rippling solos.
Are his "Jazz Art Songs" mainly jazz? Mainly classical? A mix of both? The questions seemed barely relevant. They are certainly not "crossover": The term is a tad demeaning and does scant justice to the subtleties and innovations achieved by Walker in his richly suggestive new cycle.
Flanking the new material was a mini-sequence of golden oldies from the Frank Sinatra songbook, referencing the turbulent period when Ol' Blue Eyes was romancing Ava Gardner.
Wondemagegnehu stepped up to the microphone for these, folding his super-supple tenor around such standards as "The Way You look Tonight" and "Fly Me To The Moon."
His second set of three songs was especially memorable — a wistful, worrisome "I'll Be Around," straight from the hurt locker of love abandoned, and Billy Strayhorn's boozily world-weary "Lush Life," which Wondemagegnehu sang with the assistance of a generous glass of brandy.
Taken whole, the recital could probably have benefited from a smattering of more up-tempo numbers to leaven the predominantly reflective atmosphere of the chosen selections.
And it wasn't clear whether the two singers actually benefited from the amplification provided. Both at times seemed to be paring back their natural level of voice production in a way that seemed tentative.
But these are details. The big takeaway was the overall quality and imagination involved in the Walker-Osowski-Wondemagegnehu collaboration.
More "jazz art songs" by Walker are apparently in the pipeline. So is a possible recording, and more concerts. They will be worth waiting for.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.