In 1945, Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) completed the composition of the Zodiac Suite. Each movement is inspired by personalities of a specific astrological sign. It was a pretext to escape the rigidity of the musical forms for which Williams had previously written, and to experiment with the sonorities of the music of European composers such as Berg, Hindemith or Schoenberg.
Although the Suite was composed for piano, Williams undertook to orchestrate it for chamber orchestra. Late in 1945, the public premiere left the composer frustrated. A close look at Williams’ manuscripts clearly shows that the music that was performed that night does not reflect the composer’s original intentions. Movements had been stripped of their orchestration and performed as solo piano, entire sections had been cut, and multiple errors had not been corrected, due to a lack of rehearsal time and resources.
A cornerstone of Williams’ artistic life, this legendary work has never been recorded in its original form. After working for several years on the Mary Lou Williams archives, publishing the album Mary’s Ideas (Umlaut Records 2021) and being selected as a Villa Albertine 2023 resident, Pierre-Antoine Badaroux decided to tackle the chamber orchestra version of the Zodiac Suite, in an interpretation that underlines its heterogeneity and its richness.
Zodiac Suite, composed by Mary Lou Williams (1945)
Umlaut Chamber Orchestra
Pierre-Antoine Badaroux: conductor / Agathe Peyrat: vocals / Chloé Tallet: flute / Guillaume Retail: oboe / Geoffroy Gesser: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone / Pierre Fatus: bassoon / Brice Pichard: trumpet / Harmonie Moreau: horn / Michaël Ballue : trombone / Stéphanie Padel, Florian Perret, Emilie Sauzeau, Raphaël Coqblin, Clémentine Bousquet, Clara Jaszczyszyn, Lucie Pierrard: violin / Elsa Seger, Valentine Garilli: viola / Myrtille Hetzel, Pablo Tognan: cello / Matthieu Naulleau: piano / Sébastien Beliah: double bass / Antonin Gerbal: drums
Umlaut Records, 2023
Recorded May 24-27, 2023, at Tandem, Scène nationale, Arras (FR) and mixed by Baptiste Chouquet/B•media, assisted by Louis Delgrange.
Mastering by Benjamin Joubert.
Artwork and graphic design by Bonnefrite.
Produced by Nawel Benziane and Pierre-Antoine Badaroux.
Coproduced by Umlaut Records and B•media, with support from Mary Lou Williams Foundation Inc., SCPP, CNM.
Umlaut Big Band wishes to thank la vie brève - théâtre de l'Aquarium, Tandem - scène nationale, Groupe Caisse des Dépôts, Mathilde Wagman, Emil Strandberg, Alix Tucou, Elizabeth Surles, Institute of Jazz Studies, Adam Stephenson & family, Léna Lenglet and Merlin Coffineau.
Special thanks to Herb Jordan for his support in making this project happen.
Umlaut Chamber Orchestra, photo : Léa Lanoë, 2023