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Jazzrausch Bigband: Beethoven's Breakdown

Geno Thackara By

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The big names of bebop made a splash in the music world by brashly turning convention on its head. Black Sabbath first catalyzed heavy metal into the force we know today. Punk was invented by either Link Wray, the New York Dolls or (depending on how you look at it) Cheech and Chong. Still, for taking risks and flouting rules, they were already following in footsteps hundreds of years old. Those names could have hardly hoped to be more disruptive in their respective times than Ludwig van Beethoven in his.

Trombonist Roman Sladek and guitarist Leonhard Kuhn are apparently no strangers to doing the opposite of what's expected—see the genre-mashing and perversely titled Dancing Wittgenstein (ACT, 2019)—so it's only natural that as the masterminds behind Jazzrausch Bigband, they would turn their eyes toward Beethoven next (part of a celebration in Germany marking the 250th anniversary of his birth). Befitting his revolutionary spirit, this huge and hugely electronic techno-jazz outfit honors its source by gleefully stomping the house down.

With the use of programming consoles and enough brass to fill a small armory, Beethoven's Breakdown stays faithful to old Ludwig's brilliant melodicism as much as his subversive defiance of tradition. The most (or probably only) universally-known selection here is the "Moonlight Sonata," which proves itself gorgeous in any form, even as a four-on-the-floor rave packed with trombone and tuba. Jazzrausch's arrangements keep things heavy enough for the dance club (their most regular venue, as it happens) while still letting the piece's central mystery and allure speak for itself.

The centerpiece of the affair is a multi-part original simply titled "Sonata" which puts this group's spin on the master's chief characteristics: clever harmonics, unashamed romanticism, and knock-you-on-your-back attitude. When they slide back into Beethoven's own material with a (former) string-quartet piece powered by big beats and drums, it all feels seamless. It's not too hard to imagine the composer himself playing with such hard-hitting sounds if he'd had the chance back then. Jazzrausch here pays him the most fitting musical tribute they can by keeping the volume and IQ through the roof.

Track Listing

Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 ("Moonlight"); Symphony No. 7 in A major Op. 92 – II, Allegretto; Sonata I – Allegro Spirituoso; Sonata II – Scherzo; Sonata III – Largo; Sonata IV – Finale; String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 131 – part I; String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 131 – part II.

Personnel

Jazzrausch Bigband: band/orchestra; Nils Landgren: trombone.

Album information

Title: Beethoven's Breakdown | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: ACT Music

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