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Peter Madsen: Never Bet The Devil Your Head

Chris Mosey By

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Close study of the only existing daguerréotype of American author Edgar Allan Poe (1809—1849) reveals that he bore an extraordinary resemblance to British comedian John Cleese on a bad hair day. Could this be why, despite his many accomplishments, the modern world has trouble taking Poe seriously?

Jazz pianist/composer Peter Madsen has no such problems. With this album he revisits a lifelong fascination with Poe and his gothic horror stories.

Madsen explains, "Before composing each piece, I read a Poe story or poem and then tried to capture the feelings and ideas in the music. The music that came out was a combination of modern jazz and classical sounds and concepts, full of odd meters and very difficult lines, as well as improvised sections."

The songs are, he says, "Deeply emotional and sometimes scary." Even today it would be unwise to underestimate the power of Poe.

The album opens with Madsen's interpretation of the author's best known poem, "The Raven," which has, he says, "A creepy, late night feel." A student grieving for a dead love is visited by a raven who keeps repeating the phrase "Nevermore."

In "A Dream Within A Dream," the protagonist stands on a beach watching grains of sand slip through his fingers, wishing he could hold on to them.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" describes a murder and dismemberment in which the killer is haunted by the sound of the beating of his victim's heart.

"Never Bet The Devil Your Head," the title track, is the story of a man called Dammit who bets the devil he can leap over a turnstyle. When he attempts to do so, his head is cut off by a sharp iron bar he'd failed to notice.

Psychology has shed much light on such gruesome stories. At the time they were written they must have scared Poe's readers silly.

They still have a relevance today. Without Poe's pioneering work, what chance Ridley Scott's first Alien movie? Or the award-winning South Korean zombie thriller Train To Busan?

Madsen's lilting, melancholic but always coherent compositions give Poe's works an aural setting they have long merited.

Track Listing: The Raven; A Dream Within A Dream; The Tell-Tale Heart; The Cask Of Amontillado; The Sphinx; Never Bet The Devil Your Head; The Fall Of The House Of Usher; Mesmeric Revelation; The Masque Of The Red Death; A Descent Into The Maelström.

Personnel: Peter Madsen: piano; Herbert Walser: trumpet; Aleksandra Lartseva, Monica Tarcsay: violin; Simon Frick: viola; Bianca Riesner: cello; Herwig Hammerl: bass; Martin Grabher: drums.

Title: Never Bet The Devil Your Head | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Playscape Recordings

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