June 17, 2024

Music from West Side Story
(Stanza USA – 2003)
by D. Kevin McNeir
As a college instructor of music history and English literature, I am always amazed at the response of my students when I introduce them to the lyrics and music of Sondheim and Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” My surprise stems from the fact that with theatrical revivals and DVDs, this radical revision of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”—a true Broadway and American classic, popularized in Robert Wise’s 1961 Hollywood adaptation–still resonates with today’s hip hop generation.

Now the quartet of flutist Ali Ryerson, pianist Rex Cadwallader, bass Mike Asetta and drummer Arti Dixon, or broadway, have teamed up for their first Broadway-based recording venture.

In its original version, Bernstein developed “West Side Story” as a jazz score, so it makes sense that these four highly-trained and respected jazz musicians would collaborate on such a project. From the first notes on “Jet Song” to their haunting version of “Maria” and the finale piece, “Somewhere,” one can tell that this is a music enterprise entered into among friends.

The instruments talk to one another, almost like the two lovers Tony and Maria, did in the play and subsequent film. Cadwallader probably lends the most to this recording with his wonderful sense of piano improvisation, but the creative trills and turns of Ryerson on the flute ably meet him. In fact the four artists illustrate the kinds of heights that musicians can climb when they journey with a boatload of enduring melodies and carefully transform them with the subtle, yet artistic skills of improvisation.

Whether you’re feeling lonely or are celebrating being in love, there’s a song for you on broadway’s Music from “West Side Story.”

I hate to admit that I’ve been walking down Chicago’s State Street whistling “I Feel Pretty,” but after reviewing this CD, I just can’t get that tune out of my head.

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