Peter Madsen: Never Bet The Devil Your Head

Don Phipps BY

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Peter Madsen: Never Bet The Devil Your Head
An album like Never Bet The Devil Your Head is meant for one thing—to get inside your head! And it succeeds admirably. Composer and pianist Peter Madsen's inspiration for the music came from several literary masterpieces by the master storyteller and poet Edgar Allen Poe, and each piece is titled after a Poe story or poem. Like Poe's strange and foreboding tales, these musical tales are equally strange and foreboding—but with whimsy, beauty, and a touch of the macabre.

A mix of jazz, blues, classical and rock structures and idioms, Madsen's compositions overflow with inventive melodies and phrases. But they all share something —a rhythmic syncopated pulse that underpins the motifs, resulting in music that shifts and twists and disorients as it flexes. This oddly discombobulating feeling makes Never Bet The Devil Your Head unique and unusual.

Madsen's vision and piano playing are skillfully supported by his Seven Sins Ensemble, a compendium of string instruments, trumpet, bass, and drums. For example, "Mesmeric Revelation" offers a bluesy Ellingtonian vision, and Herbert Walser's wonderful trumpet solo floats above Madsen's piano chords and the string players. "The Masque of the Red Death" provides space for violist Simon Frick to offer a stunning and twisted solo over the dissonant melody.

On the opening cut, "The Raven," Madsen uses the strings to create the sound of the raven's fluttering wings and the song gives Martin Grabher a chance to lay down some rock-inspired drumming while the strings dot and dash above. The composition is bolstered by chilly, evocative, and intense solos by cellist Bianca Riesner, Frick, and violinist Aleksandra Lartseva. Madsen himself joins in the soloing, laying down some cool bop licks above Herwig Hamerl's hard bass and Grabher's strong drum lines.

"A Dream Within a Dream" offers an eerie harmony between trumpet, bass, and strings. The music conveys a surreal, unsettling middle ground between nightmare and dream. "The Tell-Tale Heart" begins with the bass drum mimicking a heartbeat, followed by an almost Native American melody. The effect recalls tribal ghosts dancing around a bonfire on the Great Plains, the flames piercing the dark night sky. The piece features some great pizzicato strings and a Grabher drum solo that rumbles and throbs.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is "The Sphinx." With its Middle Eastern rhythms, the track conjures a lion man running through the desert on some ominous mission.

Madsen never takes the simple route in his compositions. All the tunes show meticulous care and craftsmanship—everything from arranging to performance. The result is truly engaging, inventive and original music.

Poe said it best: "And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting/ on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;/ And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming." Like the demon dreaming, this dark and surreal musical adventure is not to be missed. Recommended.

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.


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

Album information

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

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