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Bach deserves jazz treatment

The Bach Book: 40th Anniversary Album

Jacques Loussier Trio



Telarc Records




A-

It was Mitch Miller, the old sing-along-with-the-bouncing-ball man, who once said that if you played Bach with a rhythm section, you’d have jazz. And pianist Jacques Loussier has made a living proving that point.

Actually, Loussier hasn’t confined his conversion of the classics exclusively to 17th century music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The pianist also has sampled Vivaldi and Satie, but Loussier has returned frequently to the Bach library for further explorations. And as the album title indicates, it had been 40 years since the Loussier Trio had recorded Bach work for the first time. (Material for the disc under consideration was recorded in 1999.)

Why would a musician spend much of his professional life involved in Bach’s compositions? Simple. He has had a love affair with the composer’s music since he was 10, first as a classical pianist and later as a musician who saw the possibility of interpreting Bach’s in a jazz framework.

And if the experiment hadn’t been successful in the ’50s, he wouldn’t be working the same side of the street today.

Accompanied by bassist Vincent Charbonnier and drummer Andre Arpino, Loussier opens the program with a fetching performance of a composition wholly familiar to piano students: Prelude No. 1 in C major. And from there the three migrates through the three movements of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major that reflects the various moods of the work; an intriguing take of the “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” that finds Charbonnier setting the pace; and Gavotte in B Minor, a delightful interlude that sets up the final composition.

That would be Concerto in D major in three movements, which Loussier uses as a showpiece to demonstrate the deep feeling both he and his instrumentalist have for Bach as well as their skill in performing his works on their own terms.

Is this pure jazz? No, no more than it’s pure classic? Instead, it’s a mix of the two that should appeal to both jazz fans and long hairs.

The Spitfire Band’s Greatest Hits: 20th Anniversary Edition

The Spitfire Band

Allana Records

B+

The Spitfire Band is Canada’s answer to the question: “Whatever became of the big bands?” Put simply, the north-of-the-border 17-piece swing orchestra is doing today what hundreds of bands were doing 50 or so years ago: playing the kind of music that got America to dancing.

Moreover, the band’s arrangements are modeled closely after some of the biggest names during the time when swing was indeed the reigning king. And with crack musicians in every chair, you can easily imagine you’re hearing so-called original recordings rather than songs played in the spirit of music recorded more than a half-century later.

For example, “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” which opens the proceedings, is based on a Harry James’ chart that featured vocalist Kitty Kallen.

And while the Spitfires play it as an instrumental, an unidentified alto saxist hits the Willie Smith solo right on the nose.

After the openers, it’s one, long trip down nostalgia lane: The Tailwinds, a vocal group embracing “At Last”; a Bobby-Darin round-alike belting “The More I See You”; a medley of Jimmy Dorsey favorites including a lilting “Green Eyes”; and a version of “It Happened In Monterey” that owes much to Billy May’s chart for the same song.

“Marie” gets the chanting boy chorus treatment a la the Tommy Dorsey take; Spitfire leader/arranger/trumpeter Mickey Erbe inherits the Ziggy Elman chorus on “And the Angels Sing,” while the band’s reading of “Laura” is lush and lovely and played at a “Little Darling” Basie tempo.

For “Hey There,” the band again turns to the Billy May silky sax section sound, and to put a ribbon on the 17-selection package, Erbe’s swinging Spitfires offer “No More Dancin,’ an original by the leader, that captures the punch and panache of the Basie band.

In sum, while the music is captivating, it’s a rotten shame liner notes amount to nothing more than a series of praises for the band by other performers. As a result, the soloists go unidentified, which is unfair to both artists and anyone buying this recording.

(For orders or information: 1-800-228-5588 or e-mail

Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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