The Strange Music of Bent Sørensen

cover - 8226095

SØRENSEN: La Mattina for Piano & Orchestra.1 Serenidad for Clarinet & Orchestra.2 Trumpet Concerto3 / 1Leif Ove Andsnes,  pno; 2Martin Fröst, cl; 3Tine Thing Helseth, tpt; 1,3Norwegian Chamber Orch., cond. Per Kristian Skalstad; 2Danish National Symphony Orch., cond Thomas Søndergård / Dacapo 8226095

In a world of nearly uniform composing styles, it’s always refreshing to hear a composer who stands out from the others, and Bent Sørensen (b. 1958) is clearly one of those. Indeed, his individuality of expression may be the very reason he is not well known outside his native Denmark, despite having won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award for his 2016 piece, L’Isola della Citta.

Sørensen has essentially taken the French impressionist school of the early 20th century and combined it with hints of Bartók and Ligeti. As stated on Wikipedia, “His mature works create a sense of decay that is emotionally similar to viewing an aging visual artwork…Sørensen achieves this by treating major/minor tonalities with microtonal inflections and blurring the harmonies with glissandi.” His melodic top lines are essentially tonal, but the sliding chromatics of the underlying harmony give one a sense that the music is slip-sliding, very slowly, into quicksand. The contrasting but connected movements of the piano concerto La Mattina is a perfect example of this. Even in the faster second movement, the chamber orchestra rarely if ever plays together as a unit, but is heard in soft, almost ambient passages behind the piano soloist. In this movement, this even includes the percussion, which here includes maracas. What I found fascinating was the way in which Sørensen is able to maintain this feeling of weightlessness or decay despite the clipped, precise rhythm that the maracas provide.

Within a work like this, it’s difficult to say that the soloist is exceptional or not simply because the music calls for subjugation to the mood rather than to impose itself on the listener’s consciousness. Surprisingly, the most concerto-like passage, with very complex and highly rhythmic music, occurs in the “Lento” third movement, whereas the “Andante” fourth movement actually sounds slower. This piece also uses “live electronics” in the orchestra, most noticeable in this movement. In the fifth and last movement, marked “Presto,” Sørensen combines his natural aesthetic with lively, tarantella-like figures—a very strange combination, indeed.

The clarinet and orchestra piece Serenidad is on a different level, perhaps due to the nature of the solo instrument. Here, Sørensen combines his “decay”-like sound with a livelier rhythm from the very beginning. In places, it almost sounds like Messiaen’s “bird” music, with soft but edgy string tremolos in the background and what sounds like someone humming along with the clarinet soloist. In the second movement, Sørensen introduces a quasi-Spanish feel to the rhythm, and overall this entire piece avoids the feeling of “decay,” in part because the chromatic movement is more regular and rhythmic rather than sliding around (think of the introduction to Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for an analogy of what I mean). This performance is a live one, given in 2014, as opposed to the two studio recordings that surround it.

One interesting thing I noticed about Sørensen’s music is that, although it is quite complex in its understructure, it is often comprised of fairly simple building blocks, sometimes of repeated material, yet he avoids the feeling in the listener than his music is repetitive. It’s a very clever slight-of-hand trick of his. One reason why it works is that he varies his approach (see my notes on the piano work above), mixing in building blocks of different material in different tempi and alternating moods while still maintaining a cohesive piece. In the last movement, after all the activity we just went through, the music slows down and just sort of fades away in what sounds like the middle of a chorus.

Similarly, he creates a different world yet again for his Trumpet Concerto. Take the trumpet’s lead line and just read that, and you’ll be convinced that he has written an almost retro-Classical-era piece, but listen to it with the strange and fluid harmonic underpinning, and you’re suddenly in a different world. Here, too, Sørensen has taken the deep-sounding sliding chromatics of La Mattina and pitched them much higher up, matching the range of the solo instrument. And, as in Serenidad, he throws in some fast rhythmic passages that ameliorate the “decaying” sound that he favors. In the second movement, he creates an entirely new sound world in the middle, I know not how. This concerto, too, just sort of ends in the middle of nowhere.

In short, Sørensen is a composer who has created his own style but is not locked into a one-size-fits-all formula, and that makes all the difference in the world. Towards the end of the first movement of the Trumpet Concerto, for instance, he has the soloist insert a cup mute into his horn and even use “wah-wah” effects like a jazz musician, albeit in a non-jazz context. And no matter what we have heard so far in the first two works, very little of it is repeated in this concerto. Moods, yes, to a point, but neither the same orchestration nor the same sort of melodic-harmonic content. Each piece has its own feeling and character.

This is a wonderful album, highly recommended.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Benedict & Askren Play Wayne Shorter

Paraphernalia

PARAPHERNALIA / SHORTER: E.S.P. Yes And/Or No. Iris. Mahjong. Fall. Paraphernalia. Miyako. Harlequin. Tom Thumb. Infant Eyes / Jeff Benedict, t-sax/s-sax; Dave Askren, gtr; Jonathan Pintoff, bs; Chris Garcia, perc / Tapestry 76029-2

I admit to not knowing much of Wayne Shorter’s music because I have never been a really huge fan of his playing (sorry about that). I find several of his improvisations somewhat ugly and unstructured, though I do have one Miles Davis album with him on it (Nefertiti) and also the V.S.O.P. album that he made with Freddie Hubbard (one of my all-time favorite trumpeters).

Thus I approached this CD with an open mind, and although I was not particularly fond of the overly funky beat used on the opener, E.S.P., I was happy to hear that guitarist Dave Askren plays with rather more rhythmic energy than most of his compeers. His solo on this piece is a perfect example of his prowess: rhythmically lively and highly inventive, with a clear sense of construction that, to me, surpassed the basic material he was improvising on. His partner in this quartet, tenor saxist Jeff Benedict, is a lively musician with an equally good flow to his playing but not quite as original in his solos as Askren. Bassist Pintoff and drummer Garcia maintain a good, tight feeling behind them.

Yes And/Or No is a Latin-based piece that almost sounds like something from the Bossa Nova school, though the melodic line is rather paltry compared to Jobim’s more sophisticated work. Benedict really flies on this number, better than on the opener. I noticed a particular trait of his playing, however, and that is his penchant for playing in a regular division of rhythm: nearly every phrase he plays has the same rhythmic feel and division of beats. This is where Askren is different; nothing he plays is really predictable in any way, shape or form.

Since they apparently work as co-leaders, I’m sure that Askren would not be happy with my making that judgment, but as the CD progressed I could not shake the impression. Benedict is good, no question about it, but if you compare him to, say, someone like Noah Preminger, who really is extraordinary, he just sounds pretty good, whereas Askren is on a higher level of invention throughout this CD. I just couldn’t wait to hear his solos as I went from track to track. On Iris, bassist Pintoff also solos, and his playing, too, is solid and professional without being as exceptional as co-leader Askren. I was not entirely surprised to learn that Askren began his playing career as a clarinetist and saxophonist when young before switching to the guitar at age 14. In many ways, he thinks like a reed player on the guitar.

On Mahjong, Benedict plays one of his most interesting solos on the album, a bit more adventurous than his others and occasionally breaking away from his penchant for a regular rhythm to plays some very imaginative flights of fancy in the upper range of his horn. When Askren enters, his playing sounds a little subdued at first, as if he were thinking of a response to what Benedict had just played, but in the second half of the first chorus he shifts his beat to a sort of fast blues feel and takes an entirely different direction. As I say, it isn’t that he play a lot of notes, it’s just that the ones he plays are consistently interesting.

Shorter’s compositions are fairly regular in construction as jazz tunes—there are few, if any, real surprises in terms of harmony, melody or rhythm—but Askren (and occasionally Benedict) make the most of them. This CD will repay your careful listening, particularly to the guitar solos.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Tanner Williams Plays Oboe Sonatas

cover

COOKE: Sonata for Oboe & Harpsichord or Piano. Sonata for Oboe & Piano. R.E. JONES: Sonata for Oboe & Piano – Viva Altea! C. WILLIAMS: Luminous. Darkness Falling with Birdsong / Catherine Tanner Williams, ob; Christopher Williams, pno / Willowhayne Records WHR063

I wanted to review this CD primarily because I was quite impressed, in other releases, with the music of Arnold Cooke, who wrote two of the three sonatas presented here. I was not disappointed in that respect. From the very opening of the Sonata for Oboe & Harpsichord or Piano, played here on the latter instrument, I was impressed by the late British composer’s intelligence and ingenuity. Cooke’s music, for those who haven’t heard it, is conventional in its use of form and rhythm but highly imaginative in his use of harmony. The music is primarily bitonal rather than atonal; by using rootless chords and constantly shifting the harmony around as the piece progresses, Cooke was able to convey an essentially lyrical mood without boring the listener with ordinary chord patterns, and his liveliness of rhythm here gives the music a rather upbeat feeling despite the constantly shifting chords. Even within the first movement, there are also general tempo changes from slow to fast, then back and forth again as the music develops.

The second movement is quite pastoral, and the harmony Cooke set up almost sounds a bit Oriental, though this feeling also shifts and changes as the music develops. Catherine Tanner Williams’ bright, penetrating tone is perfect for this music. Her pianist-husband, Christopher Williams, is also a fine musician though I felt that his contribution was a bit more generic in feeling. The last movement of this sonata is whimsical in a devil-may-care sort of way, the music obviously meant to entertain the listener as well as engage his or her mind in the shifting harmonies.

The second Cooke sonata here was written in 1957 for the famed British virtuoso Leon Goossens. The opening movement is extremely tuneful, again, in the solo oboe line, emphasizing the pure legato for which Goossens was famous. Hearing these two sonatas back-to-back, however, one notes a sameness in both material and rhythm in their first movements, which sound as if they stemmed from the exact same template or sketches. The second movement, however, is quite different from its successor, being in a more regular pulse and lacking the Orientalisms of the later work. This third movement, though also somewhat playful, is a bit meatier in its use of material and less airy-whimsical despite a similar tempo. Parts of it are set in 6/8, with almost the feel of British folk dances, albeit with far more sophisticated harmony lifts it above that genre.

Following the Cooke works is the oboe sonata of one Richard Elfyn Jones, a Welsh composer who, to my ears, follows in the footsteps of Cooke as a composer. My ears told me, however, that his music is much more glib and less substantial overall than Cooke’s, and this was in part confirmed by the credits that list him as a composer of music for the Maryland PBS TV series After the Warming and Timeline. Once you step into the worlds of TV or movie score writing, your style becomes compromised in the sense that you begin writing more populist and less purely artistic works. Not that this oboe sonata is a bad work; it’s just very predictable in how the music goes when compared to Cooke’s pieces. I did, however, like the third movement, titled “Barullo!,” very much indeed. It has a sort of Latin jazz swagger to it that is infectious along with interesting harmonic changes, and Tanner Williams is fully up to the challenge—rare for a classically-trained oboist.

Williams’ own piece, Luminous, is a surprisingly original upbeat number using lively, fast-paced eighth-note figures that rise and fall in thirds as the music goes through several harmonic changes, then falls back to a lyrical interlude before resuming its rapid, serrated little path with variations. In this piece, too, Christopher Williams sounded livelier and more fully engaged. At 4:35 the music slows down and in fact comes to a dead stop before resuming its jolly pace in the finale. Williams throws in a swinging passage in more relaxed tempo just before the final chord.

Darkness Falling With Birdsong is one of those nature pieces which hope to capture the feeling one gets from observing everyday events in the earth’s cycle. It’s a very nice little piece, pastoral and warm, with a relaxed feeling about it.

This is one of those rarities, an oboe recital that is uplifting and entertaining in addition to presenting some very good music. I like it overall.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Barbara Hannigan’s Latest “Passione”

Hannigan

LA PASSIONE / NONO: Djamila Boupacha for Soprano Solo. HAYDN: Symphony No. 49 in f min., “La Passione.” GRISEY: Quatre Chants pour Franchir le Seuil / Barbara Hannigan, sop/cond; Ludwig Orch. . Alpha 586

Good old crazy Barbara Hannigan, famous for dressing up like a slutty schoolgirl and chewing gum as she sings Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre (as well as singing Berg’s Lulu while cavorting around the stage on pointe in toe shoes!), returns to give us three pieces—two modern and one quite old—forming “a triptych: 3 images, three perspectives of transfigured nights.”

The first of these is Luigi Nono’s “station of La Passione” about an Algerian freedom fighter, Djamila Boupacha, against the French occupation of her country. Born of an illiterate French-speaking father and a mother who did not speak French, she worked as a hospital trainee but was prevented from getting a trainee’s certificate because of her race and religion. After attempting to bomb a café in Algiers in 1960, she was arrested along with and her father and brother-in-law. The police forced a confession out of her via rape and torture. Her trial drew the attention of Simone de Beauvoir and Gisèle Halimi, both of whom lobbied for her release. Originally sentenced to death in June 1961, she was freed under the Evian Accords on April 21, 1962. As of this writing, she is still alive (source: Wikipedia).

The poem used for the lyrics to this Nono piece was written by de Jésus Lopez Pacheco:

Lift this centuries-old fog
from my eyes.
I want to see things
as a child does
It’s sad to wake each morning
and find everything the same.
This night of blood,
the unending mire
A day must dawn,
a new day.
The light must come,
believe what I tell you.

Naturally, a poem this sort could never be stretched out to fit a piece that is five minutes long, so Nono uses not only very stretched-out note lengths but also some moments of wordless vocal. The music is atonal but very interesting and creative, alternating the edgy moments with ones of surprising lyricism within a tonal framework. The singer is required to sing within an extraordinarily wide range, going up into the soprano stratosphere as well as down into what one would normally consider the mezzo range. I’m not sure whether this was Nono’s intention or Hannigan’s artistic choice (probably the former), but much of the music is focused on the vowel sounds, the consonants being sung softly without hard attacks. It is a fascinating piece.

Hannigan then conducts a performance of Haydn’s 49th Symphony, titled “La Passione,” in a style that harks back to the good old days when conductors actually used continuous legato phrasing in slow movements. I would assume that the Ludwig Orchestra, a Dutch organization formed in 2011, is using straight tone in the strings (don’t they all nowadays?), but their elegance of style and phrasing makes the results very satisfying to listen to. Of course, since Hannigan is the conductor here, some of this, too, may have been her artistic choice. In the liner notes, she describes this symphony as “a universal ritual for loss and grieving, beyond a single figure. The symphony is a journey of souls: the ones enduring on earth and the ones who have departed.” I was struck by the resemblance of the slow first movement to the music of Gluck or even mid-period Beethoven. A remarkable work, given a remarkable performance. The “Allegro di molto” second movement has an almost manic bite and drive, as does the last movement.

Then we come to Gérard Grisey’s Quatre Chants pour Franchir le Seuil (Four Songs to Cross the Threshold). In Hannigan’s words, it is “Confused, tender, angry and curious…full of breath and rhythm, otherworldly tunings of the spheres, and cries into the abyss.” Grisey, who died in November 1998 from a ruptured aneurism at the age of 52, was a major pioneer in a field that others called “Spectral music,” though both Grisey and fellow-composer Tristan Murail rejected that label as simplistic and fetishistic.

The entire work, which runs 40 minutes, is divided into five sections, the first and fourth being the longest. The chamber orchestra accompaniment, really a small chamber group consisting of brass and winds (mostly playing softy, and muted, in their lower registers), plays bitonal but lyrical music while the soprano soloist sings short, breathless, staccato phrases to a poem by Christian Guez-Ricord (the first) and texts from the Egyptian Sarcophagi of the Middle Empire (#2), an excerpt from Erinna (#3) and “The death of humankind” from The Epic of Gilgamesh (#5). It is indeed a strange work, haunting and moving. Occasionally the tuba, bass clarinet and horn grunt out louder, more threatening notes, increasing the feeling of doom, but these come later on, near the end of Part 3 (track 8) and beyond. There are also occasional and very soft percussion effects, introduced at the very beginning and elsewhere almost like some sort of dubbed-in ambient sound. These are evidently not meant to sound overtly threatening except when they become much louder in track 9 but, rather, an undercurrent of unease and uncertainty.

What’s interesting about this disc is that it could have been timed to coincide with the Covid19 outbreak which is now frightening the world, but since Hannigan recorded this album in June and July 2019, months before the first outbreak in Wuhan province, she could not have known it was coming. In any event, the primary mood of this CD is dark and bleak. You had best be in a good frame of mind before you listen to it, but it is surely a rewarding and fascinating experience.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Pereira’s Blindfold Test Presents Visions for Rhythm

Vanderlei-Pereira-Cover

VISIONS FOR RHYTHM / MOREIRA: Misturada. PEREIRA: Ponto de Partida. O Que Ficou. De Volta à Festa. Vision for Rhythm. FERRAGUTTI: Chapéu Palheta. PLAUT: Mercado Modelo. LAURIA: The Cry and the Smile.* ADOLFO: Partido Leve. POBO: Corrupião . SINGH: Les Matins de Rixensart.* FREITAS: Alma Brasiliera* / Blindfold Test: Rodrigo Ursaia, t-sax; Susan Pereira, voc/perc; Jorge Continentino, fl/pifano/t-sax; Deanna Witkowki, pno; Paul Meyers, gtr; Gustavo Amarante, *Itaiguara Brandão, el-bs; Vanderlei Pereira, dm/perc / Jazzheads JH1242

One interesting fact about Vanderlei Pereira is that he is legally blind. A victim of inherited retinitis pigmentosa, he began his career as a classical percussionist but eventually had to give up that career as his vision deteriorated, going into jazz where he was not required to read scores. This explains his startlingly advanced technique, one of the finest I’ve ever heard from a jazz percussionist

You shouldn’t let the title of this album fool you. Vanderlei Pereira’s “Visions for Rhythm” aren’t different in any significant way from the visions of rhythm performed by most Latin-inspired bands since the 1940s. The principal differences here are two: first, that Pereira is, in my view, a first-class drummer, in fact much more versatile and interesting than the late Tito Puente, and two, that he has concocted here an updated version of Sergio Mendes’ Brazil ’66 band. Pereira calls this band Blindfold Test. Maybe he wanted his older listeners to think they were listening to ’60s Brazilian jazz.

By this I mean that Pereira has wedded a female singing voice to scat in unison with whatever instrument is playing the melody lead in the first and ensuing choruses (generally the flute) while keeping the rhythm section cooking almost constantly with an infectious beat. The difference between the two bands is that, as a primarily pop-oriented group, Brazil ’66 kept solos to a minimum, usually by Mendes himself on piano, whereas in this group Pereira allows plenty of solo room for his very talented band, of which, believe it or not, guitarist Paul Meyers is a particular standout.

I have complained loudly and long in my reviews about the preponderance of screaming, whiny electric rock guitar playing in jazz groups. The style is incongruous and it wears on my nerves. But Meyers is one of those rare guitarists nowadays who not only plays an acoustic instrument, but plays it with drive and zest as well as invention. Don’t get me wrong. Pianist Deanna Witkowski is very fine but not particularly individual, and although Jorge Continentino and Rodrigo Ursaia are lithe, inventive saxists who to a certain extent emulate Stan Getz in his Latin-based recordings, Meyers’ solos were, for me, one of the highlights of this album.

But this is one of those rare jazz CDs where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. Indeed, I would say that if there is an innovation here it is in what I would call “total band integration.” For all the delight the solos bring, the overall impression one gets is of the swirling, whirling whole, almost as if, from the downbeat to the close of each number, the entire band gets up and dances. In addition, these are for the most part very catchy numbers; were there such a thing nowadays as AM pop radio, I could well imagine Chapéu Palheta [Straw Hat] hitting the top ten on the singles chart and staying there for a couple of weeks. Despite all the variations played by the jazz soloists, the catchy tune just keeps on going and going and stays in your mind after the record is over. Other tracks, such as O Que Ficou, are a little less pop-oriented and a bit more jazz-leaning, yet still catchy enough to be included on the “album version” (remember those?) of Chapéu Palheta—maybe even its flip side on the 45. Pereira plays superb backbeats on The Cry and the Smile.

This is the kind of album that I consider ideal for summertime listening, when the days are hot and draggy and you just want to lay back and do nothing, sipping an iced tea with lemon. Well recommended for what it is.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Dieterle & Forrester in the StatusSphere

Dieterle Status Sphere

STATUSSPHERE / MONK: Work. Crepuscule With Nellie (2 tks). Ruby My Dear. Let’s Call This. Pannonica. Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-lues Are. FORRESTER: Mock Time. Requiem for Aunt Honey. About Françoise. Don’t Ask Me Now. The Comeback / Vito Dieterle, t-sax; Joel Forrester, pno / Ride Symbol RID-CD-25

Young tenor saxist Vito Dieterle teams up here with veteran pianist Joel Forrester in a program of mostly Thelonious Monk tunes, with four Forrester originals interspersed among them. One interesting aspect of this album is that there is no rhythm section; another is that they actually improvise on Crepuscule With Nellie, a piece that Monk wrote to be performed straight with no improvisation.

Their decision to play so much Monk stems from the fact that Forrester feels that Dieterle sounds a lot like Charlie Rouse, who played tenor with Monk himself for 11 years (1959-69). I concur with his feeling, and in fact I’d love to hear Dieterle play with a pianist whose style is even closer to Monk than that of Forrester, who understands the chord sequences but whose playing is considerably smoother, less rhythmically angular than Monk’s own.

Which isn’t to say that Forrester is uninteresting; on the contrary, his solo on the opener, Work, shows that he does indeed understand Monk’s use of chromatics as well as anyone. It’s just that Monk’s angular, Stravinsky-like rhythms only come through occasionally in his playing, though listener less familiar with Monk himself will thoroughly enjoy what Forrester does here.

The duo places the two takes of Crepuscule With Nellie at opposite ends of this disc, the first coming on track 2 and the second as track 12, concluding the album. Nor do they rush through the piece, each take lasting almost seven and a half minutes, although the first minute and 50 seconds of each track presents the theme played straight. Forrester’s smoother piano style combines blues elements with a sort of George Shearing-like elegance, an unusual combination, yet it is Dieterle who really breaks through the written composition to come up with something both unique and exquisite. He is not a saxist who wastes notes in his solos; every note is there for a reason, and in the end I actually found his approach not too dissimilar from that of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who created whole choruses of integrated material out of thin air. From this standpoint, I found Forrester to be very good in a somewhat conventional way but Dieterle to be more continuously fascinating because of this uncanny ability of his.

The third track is Forrester’s Mock Time, a tune that sounds much more like a swing piece than something that Thelonious would have written—yet it’s attractive, and during Dieterle’s first solo Forrester plays a modified boogie beat which I found quite delightful. Later on, they trade fours in a nice chase chorus, with Dieterle listening to Forrester and building on what he has just played. Ruby My Dear goes at a nice, relaxed pace, with Dieterle limning the melody gracefully before the duo plunges into improvisations. This isn’t one of my favorite Monk tunes, however. Requiem for Aunt Honey is a slow piece, opening with an a cappella cadenza by the saxist. The melody is lyrical and attractive, and they play it very well. It ends in the middle of a phrase.

The duo also does a very nice job on Let’s Call This, with its angular melody and juxtaposed harmonies, with Dieterle nicely dovetailing his improvisation with Forrester’s piano. Unfortunately, About Françoise is a fairly dirge-like ballad. I was not terribly impressed.

Happily, they present a very nice, imaginative rendition of Pannonica, a tune dedicated to the one and only hip member of the Rothschild family, the “Jazz Baroness.” Though a slow piece, its unusual melodic and harmonic construction make it a wonderful tune to improvise on. Both players are at their best in this one. Dieterle tosses in some double-time phrases, and again constructs his solo logically while Forrester is a bit more ruminative. This is followed by another gem, Ba-Lu-Bolivar Ba-Lues Are, and Dieterle takes full advantage of this one to create one of his best solos on the record. Forrester also comes up with some nifty ideas as well.

Forrester’s original, Don’t Ask Me Now, is a clever play on the Monk tune title Ask Me Now, though the music is more boppish than the usual Monk piece. It has a nice structure, however, and both musicians really listen to each other when exchanging solos. The Comeback is also a nice tune with an attractive lead line, with Forrester playing a nice walking bass behind Dieterle’s solo and his own comping. It also has a nice feeling of swing that makes it an attractive closer.

Ah, but we’re not done quite yet. There is one more track, the alternate version of Crepuscule, and here the solos are rather different—in Dieterle’s case, I think even more imaginative than the first take, his playing more angular in many places.

All in all, then, a very interesting CD, recommended for both participants but particularly for Dieterle.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Lost Melody Plays New Songs for Old Souls

Lost Melody001

NEW SONGS FOR OLD SOULS / DAVIDIAN: Leaving Montserrat. Ready or Not. When First We Met. Before I Forget. If I Didn’t Need You. Sometime, Somehow. McMAHON: Sol. Won’t You Sing This Song for Me? OUSLEY: A Minor Waltz. A Sea of Voices / The Lost Melody: Joe Davidian, pno; Jamie Ousley, bs; Austin McMahon, dm / TIE Records 2000

“The Lost Melody” is not an album title; it is the name of a very good straightahead jazz trio that plays new songs that sound like old ones.

What do I mean by that? Even a cursory listen to this CD will tell you. The members of the trio, but mostly pianist Joe Davidian, all write pieces for them to play that sound very much like jazz and pop standards of a half-century ago. But this is not insipid music; on the contrary, they are as lively a group as you are likely to hear. It’s just that they forego the so-called “creativity” that many modern jazz groups follow, in which their tunes have no recognizable melodies. The Lost Melody’s tunes sound like a mixture of Horace Silver, Bud Powell, and any number of high quality songwriters who were active in the 1950s and early ‘60s.

A perfect example is the second track on this CD, Austin McMahon’s Sol, a nice, medium-tempo piece with a loping beat that resembles calypso. The tunes that The Lost Melody plays border on being earworms, the kind of songs that continue to go through your head long after you’ve heard them. Interestingly, for a song written by the group’s drummer, it is bassist Jamie Ousley who gets one of the most extended solos on this track, and a good one it is, too.

Davidian is a good pianist who controls himself and does not stray into outside jazz, yet his playing has sparkle and plenty of imagination. He is almost unique among modern pianists in that he can create interesting improvisations while keeping the melody going in one form or another, another hallmark of earlier jazz.

This may sound strange, but as I listened to this album I almost wished there were lyrics to some of these songs (e.g., Won’t You Sing This Song for Me?) and that they were being sung by Mel Tormé. There’s just something very Mel Tormé-ish about this entire enterprise, and the odd moment of displaced rhythm in Davidian’s solo here just seemed to me to cry out for Mel to jump in and scat along with the trio. I think he’d have loved this group.

The rhythm section of Ousley (who also solos on this track) and McMahon is tight without trying to be over-busy. This isn’t as easy to accomplish for players of this high a level as it seems. Yes, it’s easy for mediocre jazz musicians to not sound over-busy, because they don’t have great chops, but Ousley and McMahon are quite clearly masters of their instruments. They just know how to keep it under control in order to make the music work at its peak efficiency.

Three influences that seem to be missing from The Lost Melody’s style are those of the three most advanced and influential jazz pianists of that time, namely Monk, Brubeck and Evans. It might have been a bit more interesting had they dipped into their musical vocabulary just a bit, particularly in a tune like A Minor Waltz which I felt was rather less inventive or effective as the surrounding material. For me, this was the one real “lounge jazz” moment on this disc. Ready or Not impressed me more as a composition, and the subtle yet fascinating work that McMahon does in the background really livens up Davidian’s solo, which becomes more complex in its second and third choruses. Eventually, Davidian sits back and lets McMahon take over with an excellent and complex solo of his own. In the last chorus, McMahon suddenly plays back beats that go against the established rhythm—a nice touch.

When We First Met is a lyrical ballad, and here, in particular, I missed the influence of Bill Evans, even though the tempo picks up a bit (to a nice medium bounce) once the rhythm section entered. Before I Forget, recorded live, is an uptempo piece that, oddly enough, seems built on Charlie Chaplin’s famous tune Smile, though the middle section does not. Davidian has some fun in this one, inserting some descending chromatic chords against Ousley’s inventive and active bass. This is a live track, and the interaction between the members of the trio is at its peak here, particularly in the way they play with time.

Ousley’s original A Sea of Voices opens with an a cappella bass solo. Eventually Davidian enters behind him, sprinkling a few notes, followed by McMahon with some cymbal washes. At Davidian’s next entry, the trio finally coalesces, but alas the tune doesn’t really develop much beyond that except for Davidian’s fine double-time solo passage. The pianist also plays an excellent double-time chorus on If I Didn’t Need You. The album closes with Sometime, Somewhere, another ballad. I always feel that it’s a mistake, and a downer, to end a set with a ballad, where live or on a record, but that’s what they do here. Ousley contributes a very maudlin bowed bass solo.

Overall, then, a fine album with some very interesting moments.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard