In their 14-year existence, the Imani Winds have turned the woodwind quintet genre on its head. They've expanded the horizons and repertoire well beyond the strictly classical. But they're not really a crossover group. They're all classically trained musicians who also happen to be well versed in other styles of playing. They quite simply can do it all and they do it well and with an enthusiasm that is infectious.
The Imani Winds were in Utah this week, their second trip to the Beehive State in six months. Last March they performed at BYU and Thursday, playing basically the same program, they were in St. Mary's Church in Park City as part of the Utah Symphony's Dear Valley Music Festival. And they gave the audience a good idea of what they are all about.
They didn't play any works from the classical repertoire. Instead, they played pieces by composers who are either jazz musicians or who have been influenced by jazz. And surprisingly this kind of music works well when played by a combo consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. The five made the music swing and come alive.
The concert opened with two works by members of the ensemble.
Flutist Valerie Coleman's 2009 piece "Red Clay and Mississippi Delta" started things off. The work is biographical since it's a musical portrait of Coleman's family. Written in the style of a scherzo, the piece is light and airy, and the five captured its playful nature easily.
Next came hornist Jeff Scott's "Homage to Duke," a tribute to Duke Ellington that was inspired by the great jazz legend's sacred music. Scott created a very soulful and tender piece that the ensemble played with feeling and nuanced expressions.
Closing out the first half was jazz pianist Jason Moran's four-movement "Cane," a work written for the Imani Winds as part of their ongoing commissioning project.
As with Coleman's "Red Clay and Mississippi Delta," Moran's piece is also biographical, detailing as it does his ancestral connection to northern Louisiana. It's a colorful work that runs the range of expressions. It's in turn serious and earnest and also humorous and light hearted.
"Cane" is a richly textured piece that has a lot of character. The quintet gave a vibrant reading that brought out the nuances of the score compellingly.
The group started the second half of the concert with Paquito D'Rivera's "Kites Over Havana." Originally written for woodwind quintet with solo clarinet and piano, Coleman arranged it for quintet. It's a bright, light and whimsical piece that they played with lyricism and fluid lines.
Daniel Schnyder's Woodwind Quintet followed next. An eclecic piece, it seems to go in all directions in each of its four movements, yet the ensemble brought cohesiveness to the piece as a whole.
The concert ended with two exuberant klezmer dances.