Review of premiere of Roland Perrin’s ‘Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man’ 27/4/15 QEH, London
by London Jazz News
Billed as a choral jazz concert drama, the Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH) hosted what should be the first of many public performances of ‘Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man’ composed by Roland Perrin. This extraordinary work brings together the Crouch End Festival Chorus (CEFC), the Blue Planet Orchestra (BPO), a narrator played by actor Allan Corduner and Rachel Sutton as vocal soloist.
The work traces the life of Meyer Lansky as a young Jewish boy in a pogrom affected Polish-Jewish settlement in the early 20th Century. Fleeing anti-semitism he becomes part of the Jewish diaspora to Lower East Side New York. Here, his genius for mental arithmetic leads to a meteoric rise within the ranks of the mafia making him the trusted ‘go to’ man for organising takings from gambling and extortion and sharing out the profits. Lansky’s journey then takes him to Havana, Cuba where he ‘organises’ legal gambling at the behest of President Batista making millions. However, history is at work and ‘his good fortune’ is reversed by Castro and Guevara’s revolution “you can’t do business with these crazy commies”. From here he turns to Israel where he hopes to find some kind of salvation but is denied citizenship only to return to the US where he lives out the remainder of his life in a retirement community in Florida.
This uncompromising work shows Perrin to have a unique musical voice that merits wide recognition. The work manages to draw upon and integrate multiple musical sources from 19th and 20th century classical composers to salsa, klezmer and jazz, creating music that is both cerebral and powerfully emotional. The scope of the music is breath-taking. Stand out pieces, and there are many, include the East-European inflected ‘Jerusalem’ as a grandmother says goodbye to her grandson bound for New York, the easy swing of ‘You Can Turn a Nickel into a Dime’ and the salsa-driven ‘La Mulatta’ depicting a seething Havana.
The performances too, were hugely impressive. The 100 plus members of CEFC managed to make the complex arrangements sound both simple and beautiful. The twelve piece BPO moved effortlessly between musical genres with some great jazz soloing to boot. The stand out performer though was Rachel Sutton who acted and sung a number of parts. Her emotional range as a singer and actress were a revelation and this was an excellent showcase for her talents. Holding all this together somehow was conductor David Temple.
In many ways the music and empathically scripted historical drama so ably narrated by Allan Corduner is Roland’s ode to his itinerant, secretive and enigmatic father whose life had certain, albeit less dramatic, parallels with that of Lansky.
The narration ends with the comment that if Spinoza was looking down on Meyer Lansky he would say ‘ there goes one hell of a wise guy.’ Well, in this critic’s view, if Stravinsky or Ellington were looking down at the QEH last week they would be saying of Roland Perrin ‘there goes one hell of a composer’.
John Fordham writes about ‘Lansky’ (May 2015):
Roland’s music was full of contrasts, dramatic but hip and swinging too, and evoked the locations well. Impressively flexible choral writing integrated into the instrumental texture…musically terrific.