Jacques Loussier: Bach's Goldberg Variations

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Jacques Loussier and his trio are back once again, interpreting the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in this new release on the Telarc label entitled Bach's Goldberg Variations. I had high praise for Loussier in my reviews of his two previous Telarc releases; Bolero and The Bach Book. In the history books, Loussier will certainly be looked upon as a major figure in the development of the genre crossover; his 1959 album Play Bach Trio may have been the first seed planted in what is now fertile soil producing varied and vibrant vegetation. For those of you who may think that jazz and Bach have nothing in common, and that any attempts to combine the two would amount to novelty or gimmickry, Loussier will make you think again. First and foremost, J. S. Bach is considered by many to have been the greatest composer in the history of western music. Although written over 250 years ago, his music is incredibly deep and complex, and much of it "swings" in it's own way. Bach's compositions, although rooted in the musical time frame in which he lived, miraculously look ahead decades, if not centuries into the future. As a player, he was an absolute monster, his compositions bear this out; only those that exhibit total mastery of the piano can play through Bach's repertoire with any degree of success. Bach's musicianship; his prolific output and quest for complete diatonic expansion, can be paralleled with John Coltrane's own quest for musical knowledge and chromatic expansion some 200 years later.

Who knows, If Bach were alive today he just might be playing his tunes like Jacques Loussier is playing them now: weaving syncopation, textural nuance, random meter and good old-fashioned improvisation into the mix of these 32 variations, originally written for the clavier between the years 1741 and 1742. Bach originally called this set of pieces Aria With Diverse Variations. Interestingly enough, the nickname Goldberg Variations was given to these pieces after Bach's death, named after a student of Bach's; a harpsichordist by the name of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. Although Loussier has recorded several interpretive discs of Bach's music, this disc represents both a challenge and a departure from previous efforts. First off, Loussier has undertaken to record these variations in their entirety; all 32 of them. Many of the pieces are under two minutes in length- Louisser has chosen mostly to work within the confines of the actual written material, rather than embellish these pieces with extended jazz improvisations. Then there is the subject of melodic complexity: These variations are among Bach's most difficult works, placing great physical demands on anyone wishing to play them. Louisser deals with this through masterful orchestration; in some cases giving parts originally written out for the piano's left hand to bassist Benoit Dunoyer De Segonzac. Drummer Andre'Arpino's role is largely one of adding a percussive layer to Bach's written rhythmic structure, reinforcing time and meter, while adding to the trio's textural resonance. Last, but not least, is the subject of sonority: On this date, Loussier is getting an extremely bright, ringing tone out of his instrument not found on his other discs. It may just be the way the recording was mixed, or could it be that he is consciously attacking the keyboard in such a way as to elicit deliberate timbral metamorphosis? Don't forget, these variations were originally played on the harpsichord, not the piano, and Loussier may very well have been hearing the harpsichord in his head as he approached these pieces. Whatever the case may be, this is one CD that bears repeated and studied listening.

Track Listing: Opening Aria; Variations 1 through 30; Closing Aria.

Personnel: Jaques Loussier(piano); Benoit Dunoyer De Segonzac(bass); Andre'Arpino(drums)

Record Label: Telarc Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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