Friday, May 06, 2005

Jacques Loussier close up


My thread about the importance of the performance space continues with this post. We took a risk at last night's Jacques Loussier Trio concert in St Peter Mancroft Norwich, and opted to sit in the front row of the choir stalls. This put us five feet behind the bass and drums, and within touching distance of the end of Loussier's piano, and in his direct line of sight. It was a calculated risk as I knew Loussier wasn't going to blast us out of our seats, as had happened when we inadvertently got front row seats for a Joe Zawinul Syndicate gig a couple of years back, and ended up sticking Kleenex in our ears!

We were rewarded with one of the most musically involving jazz performances we have been to for years. Instead of being in a magnificent fifteenth century English perpendicular church we were in a jazz club. We were not watching the band, we were part of it.

I am slightly ambivalent about Loussier's music. But for many of us Loussier's Play Bach LP's were essential steps in our youth on the overgrown path to understanding both jazz and Bach. I appreciate concerns about 'dumbing down' as expressed by Will Benton, or by what Richard Friedman describes in a post on this blog as 'the horror of - dooby dooby doo.' But On An Overgrown Path is all about exploring personal connections, and both Officium and Jacques Loussier were important connections for me to the riches of Bach, Cistobal de Morales (whose wonderful Pace mihi domine from his Officium Defunctorum provides the title for the Hilliard/Garbarek work) , and to the whole literature of baroque and medieval music. These 'interpreters' have put me in the position today where I can at least understand why that musician with teeth Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is so passionate about the future of 'serious music'. So I am quite happy blogging about 'interpreters' such as the Hilliard Ensemble, Jan Garbarek, and Jacques Loussier, (as well as 'authentic' groups in posts about The Sixteen, Schola Cantorum Stuttgart and The Monteverdi Choir, and some new music at First performance - Douglas Weiland's Second Piano Trio, Pavey Ark). Equally I am quite happy to take on alternative points of view from valued fellow bloggers such as Will and Richard (and also Jessica Duchen on the Maazel 1984 fiasco) - that's what the blogosphere is all about.

My admitted ambivalence about Loussier has stemmed from a concern that his performances on record can get perilously close to 'elevator music'. He also has become unfortunately branded as the performer of probably the best known piece of background music for a UK TV commercial; his interpretation of the 'Air on a G string' from Bach's orchestral suite in D BWV 1068. More seriously Loussier's jazz interpretation formulas only really worked for Bach (although his treatments of Satie's Gymnopedies are very effective). Sadly the jazz cognoscenti seem to be fixated on the charges of dumbing down, rather than his role as an evangelist of jazz, and let's face it his damn fine keybaord skills. The Giants of Jazz Piano by Robert Doerschur and The Great Jazz Pianists by Len Lyons are my two standard reference books on jazz pianists, and neither gives a mention to Loussier.

Fortunately the capacity audience at St Peter Mancroft last night hadn't read the jazz reference books or learned blogs. They were queueing 45 minutes before the doors opened, and the cheering really shook the hammer-beams. All I can say is if you've never heard Loussier live you've missed something. In a world where academic analysis and MP3 downloads prescribe our musical tastes we are in danger of losing sight of the importance of live music making. The 71 year old Loussier is a mesmerising figure at the piano, particularly when you are ten feet way and looking straight at him. With his white hair and beard he looks like some kind of musical guru. And those eyes! As he played he was clearly seeing, and hearing, something in Bach that was a long way away from St Peter Mancroft in Norwich.

Another triumph for live music making (and also for new Norwich and Norfolk Festival Director Jonathan Holloway), and a capacity audience cheered the Trio to the hammer-beams. And for those who fear for the direction of On An Overgrown Path we are back in Norwich Cathedral tonight for the Tallis Scholars singing Tallis and Shepherd. And with no dumbing-down or 'dooby dooby doo' in earshot.

5 comments:

Richard Friedman said...

You should look into Uri Caine's interpretations of Mahler, Beethoven, Wagner, et al. He's probably the most creative of them all.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/classical/reviews/uricaine_diabelli.shtml

His recording of Wagner played by a cafe orchestra (Wagner in Venice) is amazing.

Pliable said...

Richard, I've got a number of the Uri Caine CD's. I agree that Wagner E Veneza is very good (although the sound effects are rather contrived). I think the Diabelli Variations are fun, but I very rarely return to listen. A few tracks of the Goldberg Variations and the Mahler CD's I find interesting, but I am afraid I find a lot of them self-indulgent and frankly rather annoying. I think it is a simply a case of 'one man's meat is another man's poison'. But I do find his 'straight' recordings like Solitaire very good, he is a wonderful pianist.
There is a marvellous CD of 'treatments' of John Dowland by the pianist Hugh Warren which I find far more satisfying. It appears to be long gone from the catalogue unfortunately, but I did get it played on BBC Radio 3 once, the listing amused me as it was Dowland played on synthesizer and prepared piano I think! Hugh Warren is pianist of the Perfect House Plants who did a couple of 'dooby dooby doo' type projects based on early music with the Orlando Consort on Harmonia Mundi (who normally have quite a good ear), but I haven't heard them.

Richard Friedman said...

I agree about Caine. You have to be selective. His Goldberg is indulgent. But I love the Wagner. Great concept, too.

Wasn't there a British group, actually a duo I think (maybe 10 years ago) that did all the Beethoven symphonies in 3 minutes. (The Reduced Orchestra..? or something like that... memory fails me.)

I liked best their rendition of Pachelbel's Canon. Sound of a cannon going off. Brilliant!

But we've strayed far off topic.
I like it when musicians take liberty with the classics, as long as they don't try to bend it too far. I recall that Paul Whiteman straightened out Gershwin's rhythms so that the masses would enjoy them. Took awhile for the originals to be known.

I'll have to look for Hugh Warren. Name is new to me. Tnx.

Anonymous said...

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MikeZ said...

I came to Loussier a long time ago by way of his Bach album. (I also got Andre Benichou's "Jazz Guitar Bach", but that's been mostly forgotten now.)

I recently got his "Variations on the Allegretto from [Beethoven's] Symphony #7". It's a great album, and one of the 1 or 2 in the jazz idiom that I have.