High On Classical Gas: Jacques Loussier, Tiempo Libre and James Galway, Burgstaller Martignon

C. Michael Bailey By

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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

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.

Tiempo Libre

Bach In Havana

Sony-BMG Masterworks


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.

The band is joined by some notable guests including Paquito D'Rivera who plays alto saxophone on "Air On A G String" (performed as a Bolero) and "Gavotte (Son)" from French Suite No. 2 in C minor, and clarinet on "Ganqueteo Con Bajo (Danzon)" based on the Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007. The latter piece is elevated by the expert bass playing of Tebelio Fonte, who introduces the piece. Rhythmic mastery characterizes all of the pieces in this recital. These interpretations brim with that positive Hispanic heart, full of joy and fun. How fortunate that all music could be like this.

James Galway and Tiempo Libre

O'Reilly Street

Sony-BMG Masterworks


Tiempo Libre scales down from the septet on Bach in Havana to a quartet supporting flautist James Galway on O'Reilly Street. Joining pianist/arranger Jorge Gomez is joined by percussionist Leanadro Gonzalez, bassist Tebelio Fonte, and drummer Hilario Bell from his larger group. The main subject of O'Reilly Street is Claude Bolling's "Suite of Flute and Jazz Piano" (1975) originally composed for Jean-Pierre Rampal. Galway brings his Irish soul to the six-movements performed, one that is both sprite and piquant. Galway, whose cross-over bona fides are well established, surpasses all possible expectations in his precise and passionate performance.

This performance of Bolling's suite is very much a collaborative effort yielding equally collaborative results. Galway brings the poetry, pianist Gomez the Bachian counterpoint, and Fonte, Gonzalez and Bell, the rhythmic heat. Thus Bolling's palette is distinctly European. Bolling employed many baroque and classical techniques in his compositions. Galway and Gomez brush this French canvas with broad cultural strokes leaving a brilliant multicultural evidence over the entire piece. This is not simply great jazz, it is great music.

The quintet also performs Bolling's "Espiegle/General O'Reilly," a more progressive series musically, more modern. These compositions have more of the Latin influence sticking to them. Gomez provides the band three compositions ("Tica-Tica," Soncito" and "Contradanza") that embrace the Latin fully. The melodies are bright, possessing a powerful momentum that is immediately musically satisfying. Gomez's pianism is broad and dense, his talent is palpable. His arranging ability is equally impressive as evidenced in his treatment of Bach's B minor Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067). Here, Galway shines as he duels with Fonte's electric bass. The Bach suite is beautifully scripted and improvised. This is a disc for end-of-the-year consideration.

Burgstaller Martignon 4

Mozart's Blue Dreams and Other Crossover Fantasies
Summit Records


These jazz/classical offerings crescendo with the Burgstaller Martignon 4's Mozart's Blue Dreams and Other Crossover Fantasies. This is music of phantasm, pretty much beyond description. The Brugstaller Martignon 4 is made up of pianist Hector Martignon, brass player Joe Burgstaller, uber-bassist Hans Glawischnig and percussionist John Ferrari. Together, this merry band performs the arrangements of Burgstaller and Martignon of three-hundred years of music from Mozart to Piazzolla (with detours through Chopin/Jobim, Duke Ellington, Chick Corea and, yes, again, Claude Bolling).

"Mozart's Blue Dream" is a five-part suite based on the composer's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major. The band's interpretation is both horizontal and vertical. Vertically, Burgstaller and Martignon use fairly well-known classical pieces as their spring board and then render them in a variety of jazz genera ways. "Blue Dream" contains Dixieland, Chicago and hard bop centered movements. "Chopin Meets Jobim" combines Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E minor with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Insensatez" in an ingenious interveaving of the two pieces in a breezy bossa nova style. Corea's "Children's Songs" are basically duets between Burgstaller and vibraphonist Ferrari in what may be the most realized pieces on the disc, in their simplicity.

It's hard to top James Galway and Tiempo Libre's Bolling offering above, but Burgstaller and Martigno give it a run for its money with Bolling's Toot Suite. Bolling's music is often termed "light classical" but it may very well be the elusive third stream Schuller was always taking about. The group's "Ave Maria" and " Oblivion" are ethereal moments of true beauty and genius—like the rest of this recording.

Tracks and Personnel

Jacques Loussier Plays Bach

Tracks: Bach: Partita in E Major; Bach: Invention for Two Voices No. 8; Bach: Siciliana in G Minor; Bach: Vivace from Concerto in C Minor; Bach: Toccata and Fugue in C Major: Overture ; Bach: Toccata and Fugue in C Major: Adagio; Bach: Toccata and Fugue in C Major: Fugue; Bach: Minuet in G Major; Bach: Prelude No. 2 in C Minor; Bach: Chromatic Fantasy; Bach: Chorale No. 1 "Sleepers Awake" (Live).

Personnel: Jacques Loussier: piano; Vincent Charbonnier: bass; Andre Arpino: drums.

Bach In Havana

Tracks: Tu Conga Bach (Conga) (Inspired by the C Minor Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1); Fuga (Cha-cha-chá) (Based on Sonata in D Minor, BWV 964, II. Fuga-Allegro); Air on a G String (Bolero) (Based on Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: II. Air on a G String); Clave in C Minor (Guaguancó) (Based on Prelude No. 2 in C minor, BWV 847); Gavotte (Son) (Based on French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816: IV. Gavotte); Mi Orisha (6/8 Batá) (Based on French Suite No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 813: Minuet); Minuet in G (Guaguancó); Olas de Yemayá (Batá) (Based on the C Major Prelude, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1); Baqueteo con Bajo (Danzón) (Based on Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007); Timbach (Timba) (Inspired by the D Major Prelude, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1); Kyrie (Batá) (Inspired by Mass in B Minor, BWV 232: I. Kyrie).

Personnel: Jorge Gomez: music director; arranger; keyboards; background vocals; Joaquin "El Kid" Diaz: lead vocals; Leandro González: congas, background vocals; Tebelio "Tony" Fonte: electric bass, background vocals; Cristobal Ferrer Garcia: trumpet; Hilario Bell: percussion, timbales; Luis "Rosca" Beltran Castillo: tenor saxophone; Yosvanny Terry: saxophone; Paquito D'Rivera: saxophone, clarinet.

O'Reilly Street

Tracks: Music From Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano; Espiegle/General O'Reilly; Tica-Tica; Soncito; Contradanza; Nadnerie from Orchestral Suite in B minor, BWV 1067.

Personnel: Sir James Galway: Flute; Jorge Gomez: piano, leader; Leandro Gonzalez: percussion; Tebelio "Tony" Fonte: electric bass; Hilario Bell: drums.

Mozart's Blue Dreams and Other Crossover Fantasies

Tracks: Mozart Blues Dreams: Dig That Mozart, Straight Ahead, Mozart...Busted!!, Bloom Mozart, Theme; Chopin Meets Jobim; Echoes of Harlem; Three Children's Songs: No. 1, No. 4, No. 7; Toot Suite: Allegre, Mystique, Rag Polka, Vesperale, Spirituelle; Ave Maria; Oblivion.

Personnel: Hector Martignon: piano; Joe Burgstaller: trumpet, flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig: bass; John Ferrari; percussion.

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