High On Classical Gas: Jacques Loussier, Tiempo Libre and James Galway, Burgstaller Martignon
Jazz and classical musics should be friends. They have much in common. It is conceivable that a synthesis of the two could be achieved as successfully as that existing between jazz and rock. However, most attempts to meld jazz and classical have yielded mediocre results.
Some headway has been made. The recent appearance of pianist Enrico Pieranunzi's Enrico Pieranunzi Plays Domenico Scarlatti (Cam Jazz, 2009) shows a more urbane dissolution of the two genres into one another. There are several other recent recordings qualitatively reaching the same results dealt with here. The artists display vastly differing modes to achieving the same goal: the synthesis of jazz and classical music.
None of the music presented here can be defined as "third stream" according to Gunther Schuller's 1957 definition, as these are all jazz musicians playing classical pieces arranged for jazz performance. Having said that, Claude Bolling's compositions, which experience a revival here, may be the quintessential third stream music. Well-played jazz requires much of its musicians and arrangers. This particular brand ramps up that requirement to a mad roar, and all of these musicians are up to the task.
Jacques Loussier Plays Bach: The 50th Anniversary Recording
There is nothing new about pianist Jacques Loussier or his classically bent approach to jazz. He has been at the classical/jazz helm since the late 1950s, as evidenced by his 50th Anniversary Recording of Jacques Loussier Plays Bach. Loussier formed his original Play Bach Trio in 1959 with bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Christian Garros, resulting in a number of Bach-dedicated recordings for Decca. The original Play Bach Trio disbanded in 1978 and Loussier pursued several other projects including collaboration with pop artists that from Sting to Elton John to Pink Floyd. He then reformed the Play Bach Trio in 1985 with bassist Vincent Charbonnier and drummer Andre Arpino, the rhythm section supporting him on the present recording. The past 25 years have seen a series of interesting if not altogether fine Play Bach Trio treatments of the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Satie, Debussy, Ravel and Mozart.
But Loussier's long coat is certainly Bach and Jacques Loussier Plays Bach: The 50th Anniversary Recording may be his most fully realized offering of this music. The trio has most successfully interpreted Bach in a jazz setting, arranging the music in such a way as to make it both challenging and rewarding to experience. All three musicians are emphatically linked with regard to time and tempo providing a tight-as-a-drum performance of the throughtfully arranged Bach. Charbonnier is most impressive in his interplay with Loussier. Solo and improvised sections are as tight as the arranged portions of the pieces, a feat held together expertly by Arpino.
On this disc, Loussier interprets music from throughout the Bach corpus. The Partitas, Two-Part Inventions, and Chromatic Fantasy are represented as well as Bach's organ work in the "Toccata and Fugue in C minor," (BWV 565). Loussier's treatment of the famous "Minuet in G Major" (BWV Anh. 114, attributed to Christian Petzold) is the most "baroque" of his interpretations. All are preformed beautifully and provocatively. The disc watershed is the live rendering of Chorale No. 1, "Sleepers Awake." The piece is opened by Charbonnier's superb pizzicato and features very rapid playing by all. Loussier indeed performs the best of his long career. Here, the classical/jazz fusion works and works very well and is easily understood by all.
Bach In Havana
From France, Bach moves to the more humid climes of the Caribbean and is fully transformed in route. Tiempo Libre is a group of Cuban expats living in Miami, recording cook-fire hot Latin jazz. On Bach In Havana, the group reshapes Bach in their own rhythmic image, proving that a decent jazz treatment of the classics is possible. This particular incarnation manifests as a septet featuring a bright horn section and the necessisarily present percussion orchestra. Directed by pianist Jorge Gomez, who is also responsible to the fine arrangements performed. Bach in Havana represents a positive step forward in the melding of jazz and classical genera.
The album shares with Jacques Loussier Plays Bach: The 50th Anniversary Recordingthe Prelude No. 2 in C minor, BWV 847, and the Minuet in G Major. However, the performances by the two ensembles could not be more different or that difference so welcome. One is not better than the other, it is our grace that both exist. In the minuet, Tiempo Libre saturates the quaint melody with a wall of percussion.