13 SEP 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Alto saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, and arranger John LaPorta served in the Berklee College of Music faculty for nearly 40 years, and his recording and performing career intertwined with those of Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus (through the Jazz Composers' Workshop). And yet, there are few recordings of LaPorta as a leader. So, the 25-song compilation Theme & Variations (Fantasy, 1999) is one of the best places to discover his music.
It reissues his 1956 Fantasy album Conceptions with about a dozen previously unreleased tracks recorded from Conceptions to '58. LaPorta composed all but the jazz jam "Perdido" for ensembles ranging from duos to octets, combining the even hand of classical structure with the warm, swinging rhythms of modern jazz.
In fact, through the range of its orchestration and material, Theme & Variations captures a solid and colorful portrait of jazz history. The nostalgic sound and bouncy rhythm of LaPorta's clarinet in "Jazz Fugue" brings out strains from classical recital halls and Dixieland dancehalls, and he drapes "En Rapport" in the moaning throes of Dixieland blues. "From The Cool School" and "Small Blue Opus" skate on cool big band sounds. His boppish "Jazz Canon" seems perfectly positioned, immediately followed by a "Tribute To Bird" that romps on crackling cymbals like an untamed colt.
LaPorta is featured as co-leader on Jazzical Moods with Charles Mingus (1995, OJC) and also appears on Mingus' The Complete Debut Recordings (1990).