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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Jacques Loussier Trio.

Jacques Loussier Trio Play Bach... and more.

EuroArts DVD 2054068



Johann Sebastian Bach
1. Fugue No. 5 in D Major
2. Gavotte in D Major
3. Pastorale in C Major
4. Air on a G String
5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major
6. Harpsichord Concerto in D Major: 3. Allegro
Claude Debussy
7. Arabesque
8. L’Isle joyeusse
Erik Satie
9. Gymnopedie No. 1
Maurice Ravel
10. Bolero

Bonus: Jacques Loussier in conversation

Jacques Loussier (piano)
Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac (bass)
Andre Arpino (drums)

Recorded live at St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig, 28 July 2004

As Jurgen Schwab points out in the liner notes to this DVD, Jacques Loussier was not the first jazz musician to improvise on a Bach piece; Django Rheinhardt and Stephane Grapelli got there as far back as 1937. It was Bach’s own music, however - rather than this historical reading - that inspired in Loussier the urge to create something new from the composer’s work. As a ten year old child in Angers, Western France, Loussier fell in love with a piece from the so-called Notebooks of Anna Magdalena Bach. Playing it over and over again, he began to alter the melodies and harmonies, developing the habit of improvisation and learning the art of composition. When he eventually began at the Paris Conservatoire, his original take on the music of Bach proved popular amongst his fellow students, who often begged him to play ‘his Bach’.

It’s easy to understand their enthusiasm; whilst maintaining the spirit of the original compositions, Loussier’s Bach is a unique experience, richly textured and beautifully constructed. The concert opens with a sensitively arranged ‘Fugue No. 5 in D Major’ - a recording that perfectly supports the pianist’s view that his improvisations are carried out with the greatest respect for Bach. Whilst the camera focuses on his nimble fingers effortlessly covering the breadth of the piano, we never get the sense that Loussier’s virtuosity is showcased at the expense of the whole. Every note, every phrase, every chord, every solo is measured, exact and in keeping with the mood. In Loussier’s careful hands, the music of Bach is celebrated rather than desecrated, built on rather than tampered with.

In saying this, several of the featured pieces have been given a distinctly modern feel. ‘Gavotte in D Major’, for example, begins with a funky, chilled out drum and bass riff that really starts to swing. The piano then enters, hammering out an upbeat take on the well-known melody. Similarly, in the ‘Allegro’ section of the Brandenburg Concerto, Loussier solos around the main theme of the piece, challenging it at every opportunity. Switching between major and minor reflections, he eventually soars in to a rich landscape of sound, reminiscent of the style of the Romantic period. It must be noted, though, that throughout such examples, a strong sense of form and melody is maintained, the original vision never lost.

Perhaps the most striking example of Loussier’s ability to combine inventiveness with restraint arises on his famous ‘Air on a G String’. Smooth, flawless and completely controlled, his playing is truly remarkable to witness, and brings out of the beauty of his improvisations. Through the slightest tonal variations, and delicate runs on the higher registers, he creates a subtle and intelligent masterpiece guaranteed to delight.

Loussier’s ideas are truly unique - but his supporting musicians understand them well, and perform outstandingly throughout this concert. Andre Arpino is a great percussionist, having years of experience working with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and a host of other top jazz musicians. Whilst taking a generally quiet approach, he creates incredible rhythmic tension, and plays with a lot of feeling throughout. In the softer section of ‘Gavotte in D. Major’, he reveals a remarkable sensitivity, playing with all kinds of rhythmic textures, never allowing a descent in to blandness. He likewise breathes life in to the Brandenbug Concerto, ensuring each fill is well-timed and complex. And on his solo he truly shines, beginning with a heavenly mesh of cymbals that resounds delightfully throughout the church. Gradually, he raises the intensity levels, high hat steadily tapping away as he covers the kit with an array of rhythms. Eventually, he settles for a funky swing, building up incredible speed and noise before signalling to Loussier that it’s time to return with a few quiet taps on the cymbals.

Bassist, Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac, is an equally virtuosic performer. Eyes closed for much of the performance, his emotional attachment to the music is clear. Making considerable use of vibrato, his tone is rich, clear and resonant, his rhythmic precision second to none. Some of the most beautiful work of the concert occurs when he doubles up Loussier’s melodies, playing so tightly it almost seems that only one miraculous instrument is involved. It is his solo, though, on ‘Pastorale in C Minor’ that truly demonstrates his immense talent. Extremely complex, yet highly melodic, it probes a variety of moods of styles - from groovy, to challenging, to ethereal, to intense - using spine tingling chords to draw out the harmonies. The camera catches a wonderful moment as a smile breaks through on Loussier’s face (believe me, this is an incredible compliment), before panning back for a shot of the crowd from somewhere near the ceiling of the church.

Indeed, the quality of the camera work is impressive throughout this DVD, capturing the trio at their most intense, whilst also giving considerable attention to the architecture of this beautiful building (in which Bach himself is buried). Every last detail is stylishly presented - even the appearance of the song titles. Before a new piece begins, it’s name appears in a minimalist fashion, accompanied by a strip of images of the church - such as stained glass windows, pillars and sculptures.

A final pleasing touch is added by the inclusion of a (fairly self-explanatory) section called ‘Jacques Loussier in conversation’. Here, the composer discusses such things as his ardent love of Bach ("He’s my life. He represents what’s essential in music."), the musicians who have influenced his approach to piano and the history of his work in trios. Most illuminating, perhaps, is his detailed description of how he approaches his arrangements - analysing the score, changing the harmonies and creating a section for each musician to take off freely in his own preferred direction. "For every composer," he tells us, "you have to find what’s most suitable. Simply adding bass and percussion isn’t enough." And, having listened to his takes on Debussy and Satie - finely arranged, delicately performed and in keeping with each composer’s style - we understand the truth of these words.

Overall, its difficult not to be inspired by work like this. Loussier’s arrangements, as Schwab puts it, ‘give back to Baroque music, with its tendency towards rhythmic uniformity, a vitality and spontaneity that makes it sound fresh and alive to our modern ears.’ And, aside from viewing the live performance, it doesn’t get much fresher than on a DVD like this. A beautifully filmed, beautiful performed and beautifully presented concert, I truly cannot recommend this enough.

Robert Gibson

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