For nearly four decades now, French pianist and composer Jacques Loussier has been issuing peerless jazz versions of Bach's multifaceted music. Although that may sound like a novelty (remember Bachbusters?), Loussier understands both idioms well and is partial to no one particular genre, as he also includes touches of rock and the avant-garde in his style too. Loussier makes a successful case for defining music as simply music without pigeonholing it into genre. He often conjures images of John Lewis in his cool classicism, Ahmad Jamal in his earthy approach and adherence to space and, especially during solos, the intellectual emotionalism of Bill Evans. Because of his interests and talents in jazz, Loussier is nothing like Glenn Gould, another pianist who repeatedly explored Bach's terrain and wound up in different places.
When this approach works, Loussier devises unique, wondrous approaches to his material: the "Allegro" from La Primavera here and Bach's "Gavotte in D Major" elsewhere. When it doesn't, Loussier sounds like he's trying too hard to meld opposing styles to come up with something that sounds a little too forced: the Brubeck-ish "Presto" from L'Estate and the George Winston-in-a-trio version of "Allegro Non Molto" from L'Inverno.
Departing momentarily from Bach, Loussier here explores Vivaldi's well-known Four Seasons. In addition to the popular themes, Loussier invests these pieces with familiar styles - without ever departing from his crystal-clear vision and perfectly recorded sound. "Allegro" from La Primavera is reminiscent of Dave Grusin's "Mountain Dance" and could just as easily have come from a good Bob James record like BJ4. The acoustic Bob James style, heard on last year's Straight Up , is on call again in the "Largo" from "L'Inverno." And "Django" is clearly the model for "Allegro Non Molto" from L"Estate. Here, Loussier retains the clarity of Vivaldi's vision and even manages to structure a nice tribute to "Django" composer John Lewis.
Although it takes several listens to get acquainted with this music, it is an excellent showcase for Loussier's abilities to rethink the music, to explore it with wisdom and to work with a super-talented bassist (Vincent Charbonnier) and drummer (Andre Arpino) who are sensitive to what he aims to accomplish. As background music, The Four Seasons sounds pleasant, if not a little dry. But when attending to its many, many intricate charms, yields a rich listening experience that would appeal as much to a classical listener as to a jazz lover. I suspect fans of Keith Jarrett would probably like much of what Mr. Loussier produces here as well as on his previous Telarc disc Plays Bach and those Columbia discs like Bach to the Future he produced in the 1980s.
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