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Andre Previn - or more accurately, Sir Andre, given the knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth in 1996 - is one of the very few pianists who moves back and forth between jazz and classical music with ease. Others of note are Keith Jarrett and, to a lesser extent, Mel Powell. There has been considerable debate whether a classical musician can successfully make this transition given the restraints on improvisation in the classical genre. It depends, I suppose, on one's definition of "successful". Mr. Previn has certainly made some successful jazz records over the years. But this one is somewhat different in that it brings to Ellington's music the techniques which underpin a classical pianist. He also brings with him the "classical" jazz pianism of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. Thus, his interpretations on this album are replete with arpeggios and trills, complicated runs, discordant explorations in minor keys, shifting time signatures and more. It all makes for an interesting and challenging 73 minutes of music.
Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" is treated as if it were composed by Delius, elusive and flowing. On this piece, David Finck sustains the mood with quivering plucks of the bass. "Come Sunday" is given religious reading as if it were played following a dais thumping, fire and brimstone sermon leaving the congregation to ponder the minister's peroration in a peaceful atmosphere. "Squatty Roo" gets a decidedly jazzy treatment while "Serenade to Sweden" has a blusey feel about it, despite all the embellishments of Previn's fingers. Finck's solo bass on the latter is especially attention getting. "I Didn't Know about You" makes you want to slow dance. "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" is where Mr. Previn takes some risks shifting among major and minor keys and time signatures. It makes one sit up and listen as does the startling opening to "In a Mello Tone" which has an effect similar to the stentorian opening chords of Tchaikovsky's "First Piano Concerto".
It should be noted that while there is some risk in the playing, there was very little in the selection of the program. With a couple of exceptions, Mr. Previn stays with Duke's well-known classic standards. But the greatness of these compositions combined with the personal imprimatur Mr. Previn puts on them easily places this album into the recommended category.
Tracks:Take the "A" Train; Isfahan; I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good); Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me; Chelsea Bridge; Things Ain't What They Used to Be; In a Sentimental Mood; Squatty Roo; Come Sunday; Serenade to Sweden; I Didn't Know about You; In a Mello Tone; It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing
Personnel: Andre Previn - Piano; David Finck - Bass
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.