Dupree Revisits Kapustin

Kapustin cover

WAP 2022KAPUSTIN: Sunrise (Daybreak). 8 Concert Studies, Op. 40 Nos. 1, 2, 7 & 8. Variations, Op. 41. Motive Force. Big Band Sound. Jazz Preludes, Op. 53 Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6-9, 11, 13, 15, 19 & 23. The End of the Rainbow. Paraphrase on “Blue Bossa.” Paraphrase on “Aquarela do Brasil” / Frank Dupree Trio: Dupree, pno; Jakob Krupp, bs; Meinhard “Obi” Jenne, dm / Capriccio C5439

Following on the heels of his recording of Kapustin’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (reviewed in July 2021), German pianist Frank Dupree here comes to grips with a fairly large number of his solo piano works, but arranged for the standard jazz trio lineup of piano-bass-drums.

Dupree explains how in the liner notes:

Everything that’s of Kapustin’s remains in the original. I play exactly what Nikolai Kapustin wrote down. The double bass line is based on the piano’s left-hand part and the harmonic structure, which is to say the chord changes. With the part for drums, it’s a little bit more complex. Often, Kapustin changes the style of jazz from prélude to prélude or étude to étude; sometimes the groove changes mid-work. Sometimes it’s a bossa nova, then cool-jazz, or a jazz waltz. These nuances we’ve tried to decipher from between the lines, as it were. Drummer Obi Jenne knows every detail, every accent of both Jakob Krupp’s part and mine, and – colorfully, smartly – improvises along with them.

Unlike his CD of the Fourth Piano Concerto, where his playing was excellent but occasionally a little tense, Dupree is laid-back and relaxed in this wonderful set although his drummer doesn’t have as relaxed a sense of swing as either Dupree or Krupp. Had he used an American drummer, I’m sure the results would be a little looser rhythmically, but then again, this is Kapustin and not Art Tatum or Bud Powell they’re playing.

And occasionally, as in the first of the four Concert Studies, Jenne’s more classically correct manner of playing drums works to the music’s advantage. Here his ability to swing is not as important as his ability to play fast figures, including paradiddles, at breakneck speed without faltering or losing the beat while Dupree and Krupp handle the major chores of the piece. Once in a while, as on Concert Study No. 2, “Reverie,” Dupree himself is a little stiff in rhythm, making Kapustin sound more like Chopin in the opening section before loosening up and swinging through the rest of the piece.

But now, let us approach this album from the perspective of marketing and its presumed target audience. This is a problem, because except for fellow-musicians, jazz-influenced classical music has a relatively small audience in the classical world, which is a major reason why Kapustin remained largely ignored until he was in his mid-60s. The classical snobs—and this unfortunately includes a majority of pedagogues—detest anything that resembles jazz in the classical field, considering it to be “cheap” or “easy” music when in fact it is anything but. To them, the bombastic technical complexities of much of Liszt’s and Rachmaninov’s music is preferable to anything that is jazz-influenced, simply because they don’t understand how difficult jazz is to play and really don’t care, and this is sad. On the other hand, the jazz audience rejects almost anything that is through-composed as “non-jazz,” as witness the cold shoulder that Friedrich Gulda received from the jazz snobs for most of his life. You just can’t please these people because they have their musical agenda and will not bend or even come halfway towards accepting that what a genius like Kapustin did is something they couldn’t do in a million years, yet they have the gall to sit in judgment of this music and push it into a no-man’s-land of musical ephemera, claiming it is neither fish nor fowl. For these reasons, I predict that Dupree’s CD will sell to the Kapustin fans, of which there are indeed a few million in the world, but not to the larger classical or jazz public.

But who knows? Some of these pieces, such as the Variations Op. 41, swing so nicely and have such wonderful musical substance that it could easily be sneaked into an FM radio jazz program without mentioning the composer’s name and be appreciated as a good example of retro jazz. On this recording in particular, the Dupree trio clicks on all cylinders, producing a wholly relaxed and swinging performance that could easily fool an audience into accepting it as improvised jazz…which, of course, still won’t win over the classical snobs, even though, at about the 4:20 mark, Kapustin slyly sneaks in a short quote from Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps in the slow section, which he then develops quite differently. A bit later on, Kapustin throws in a short quote from the old pop tune Love is Just Around the Corner. And Motive Force has a kind of funky groove that reminded me of a lot of early-1960s jazz, including that of the Ramsey Lewis Trio (remember them?).

Another good moment for the group is the first of the Jazz Preludes, where Kapustin took the piano to the limit of both speed and difficulty in execution, creating a fast, running bass line that almost sounds like boogie-woogie behind equally blistering right-hand figures, while in the third prelude he relaxed the tempo to a real “Larghetto” while producing a lovely ballad-like melody which holds the listener’s interest via some truly exquisite and subtle chord progressions. In the “Allegretto” Kapustin used what you could call a nice “walking” tempo, in which even drummer Jenne sounds nice and relaxed (the same is true in the No. 7 “Moderato”).

Perhaps the most difficult piece to transcribe for trio was The End of the Rainbow, which really isn’t as jazz-influenced as the others. Here, Dupree alternates solo piano playing with passages scored for all three, which, as coincidence would have it, are the slightly more uptempo sections, and it works. Interestingly, the Paraphrase on “Aquarela do Brasil” is one of my old friends from the 1950s, the hit pop tune Brazil, played in a jazz version by Django Reinhardt (one of his last recording sessions) as well as a later hit tune for Ray Conniff, and it is a marvelous transformation.

I suppose the real key to this album is that the trio really sounds as if they’re enjoying every moment of this music, and this enjoyment is infectious. You can’t help but smile, either overtly or just inside, as you listen to this CD. It is a rare ray of sunshine in the otherwise morbid, oppressive atmosphere of post-Covid-19 hysteria, one that we sorely needed, and I thank Frank for making the record and getting Capriccio to release it. Thank you, Frank! I only hope that he’s considering taking this trio on the road to play in live performances. Heaven knows we need it.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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