Taken as a whole, this music bridges the gap between Cool Jazz and Third Stream. The suite takes a blues theme and takes it through various forms associated with classical music--a chorale, a fugue, etc--with each variation highlighting a different instrument and player(s). Conceptions shows some similar ambitions, opening with a "Concertina for Clarinet."
Lest one begin to think this is all just some academic exercise, let me assure you that this is not the case. LaPorta surrounds himself here with an outstanding group of musicians, including pianist Wally Cirillo, trombonist Sonny Russo and George Barrow on baritone saxophone. These cats swing there way through this complex program. Coolly, no doubt, but swinging nevertheless. And LaPorta shows a keen sense of humor in his composing and playing, as evidenced by such tracks as the brief "Triplets, You Say," an epic rendering of "Perdido" (even then a war-horse) which displays an appetite for deconstruction presaging such later recordings as Archie Shepp's "Girl From Ipanema" and the Mothers' "Louie, Louie." Last but not least is the album's closer, the self-effacingly titled "Ferme La Porta."
All reissues are not created equal. Theme and Variations is one of the more important in recent memory. Fantasy has done jazz a great service by releasing a lost gem and packaging it with a forgotten classic. Anyone interested in jazz clarinet, Cool Jazz and/or Third Stream owes it to themselves to track this one down while they can.