The true beauty and utility of the Great American Songbook is the durability of the music in response to interpretation, often jarring and drastic. French pianist Martial Solal made a master's class of demonstrating the music's vitality on his uniformly excellent Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything But Love (CAM Jazz, 2009). On that recording, Solal so deliberately and completely deconstructed Tin Pan Alley, that he created a new lens through which to pass these old compositions, making them new and necessary again.
Pianist Peter Madsen does the same with the music of Billy Strayhorn. In the company of guitarist Oliver Rath, Madsen completely rearranges 10 Strayhorn masterpieces. In doing this, the pianist reveals both Strayhorn's genius and sense of humor, both which are in full display on the recording's lengthiest pieces. "Day Dream" is fashioned as exactly that, traumerei if you will, one ascending into a melodic and swinging sphere where Madsen and Rath weave a gentle and loose filigree around Strayhorn's delicate melody. This "Take the A Train" is one for the ages. Rath introduces the piece with a completely lofi slide guitar stream-of-consciousness introduction that could have only occurred literarily had William Faulkner soul kissed Virginia Wolff. Once done with the potently bizarre introduction, Rath lays down a groove that is immediately picked up by Madsen developing nicely until taking a hard turn into the box containing Schrodinger's Cat. The two happily explore the more earthy muses of the song, bringing in the church, the brothel, the blues, and, yes, jazz. You get the idea.
Finally, there is that Strayhorn state-of-grace, "Blood Count." The piece was composed 50 years ago, this year, while Strayhorn was being treated for esophageal cancer. "UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)" was composed at around the same time under the same circumstances. Madsen and Rath reach an emotional critical mass, albeit quietly. Strayhorn was Ellington's melodic muse, a man well before his time. Madsen and Rath obviously know this.
Satin Doll; Passion Flower; Day Dream; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; Take the A Train; Johnny Come
Lately; Blood Count; Chelsea Bridge; Isfahan; Lotus Blossom.
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