Thursday, April 17, 2014


In a career that spans more than a half century, pianist and composer Jacques Loussier has built an enormous body of work by blurring the lines between classical and jazz. Beginning in 1959 with his Play Bach Trio, and later with alternate lineups that explored numerous other classical artists, Loussier and his various collaborators forced musicians and audiences of both jazz and classical music to re-evaluate the boundaries – and indeed the similarities – between their respective genres. Along the way, he has sold more than six million albums worldwide.

Fifty five years after those bold first steps with Play Bach Trio, Telarc celebrates Loussier’s upcoming 80th birthday in October 2014 with the release of two collections that provide a cross section of his masterful fusion of classical tradition with the jazz idiom. My Personal Favorites: The Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Bach and Beyond Bach: Other Composers I Adore – two specially priced 2-CD sets, each with tracks chosen by Loussier as personal favorites – are scheduled for a May 27, 2014, release on Telarc International, a subsidiary of Concord Music.
Personal Favorites: The Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Bach:
The Bach collection principally features the trio that Loussier formed in 1985. “His personal selection of pieces from his Bach repertoire looks back on the one hand to his earliest triumphs, but also shows how the trio has developed and responded to the music over time,” says jazz  historian Alyn Shipton, author of the liner notes for both collections. “So, while the opening ‘Air on a G String’ is clearly recognizable as having affinities with his original recording from the Play Bach era, as the improvisation develops, there is a conversation between Vincent Charbonnier’s bass and the piano that would not have been part of the 1959 trio’s remit.”

“My interpretation of ‘Air on a G String’ was featured  in many Benson & Hedges cigar commercials on television between 1964 and 1999,” Loussier recalls, “and my music was suddenly exposed to millions of listeners. There were nearly 100 TV spots in all. They were very funny, especially the last one, which most people will remember.”

The collection also includes some noteworthy “firsts” in Loussier’s career with the Play Bach Trio. Prelude No. 1 in C Major from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the first Bach piece he ever arranged in a jazz context. Bach’s Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor, meanwhile, was the piece the trio debuted in Paris in 1959.

In “Pastorale in C Minor,” piano and bass double and then alternate the lead before going into a jazz passage where the bass takes on a walking role beneath the piano. Loussier’s choices on the CD, says Shipton, are an interesting mix of oft-requested Bach favorites and the composer’s own preference for slightly lesser-known music where the players bring their own personalities into the recipe.

“Italian Concerto” mixes a variety of elements in a way that never loses sight of Bach’s original, but which includes many original touches. “These include the sense of more than one tempo in the opening movement, for example, or the dramatic bleakness of the central Andante, with bass pedal notes and atmospheric drums creating a landscape that goes a great distance beyond Bach’s,” says Shipton. “The joyous conclusion is everything that its fans love about the trio: precision, delicacy, and hard-hitting swing, yet in a context of familiarity for the classical audience, and with moments of departure into a more abstract style.”

The collection also includes pieces that reflect the most contrasting moods from Loussier’s ambitious Goldberg Variations album. After the opening aria comes the impressionist treatment of Variation 2, and the uptempo Number 5. “It all comes together in the longer exploration of Variation 25,” says Shipton, “which as well as showing how the trio can be loyal to Bach while traveling a long way from its original, it can create a musical scene that is entirely its own, and testament to the creativity of its founder.”
My Favorite Composers:
The Vivaldi concerto here – the second of the Four Seasons quartet – demonstrates how successfully Loussier applied his jazz approach to a classical composer. Instead of the strong harmonic development of J.S. Bach, with its affinities to jazz structure, Vivaldi deals in songlike melodies.

“Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was our first CD after a long series of Play Bach recordings,” says Loussier. “It was quite different from what I’d been doing, and I wondered if it would be possible to make Vivaldi swing in the same way I had done with Bach, who is an interesting composer but not easy to improvise. After making that album, I decided I could do anything with any other composer.”

“There’s a direct connection between the summery feeling Loussier was aiming for in the opening of the Vivaldi and the laid-back calm of Gymnopedie No. 1 by Eric Satie,” Shipton explains. “Gnossiene No. 1 is more rhythmic, but overall in these pieces, Loussier uses the originals as an opportunity to add his own compositional touches, altering a harmony here, adding a subtle melodic flourish there.”

“I chose to record Satie’s Gymnopedie’s because this is already a swinging piece – like Bach is, but in a different way,” says Loussier. “But I felt very much at home with this unique piece of harmonistic and relaxing music.”

The baroque adventures in music by Handel and Scarlatti on these CDs sit closer to Jacques’ original experiments with Bach. Indeed, the Scarlatti has great affinities to the work of his first trio. And so, too, does the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major.

The remaining pieces on the album are a testament to the variety of material that Jacques has explored. The charming simplicity of Schumann’s songs leads to a catchy inevitability about the arrangement of ‘Of Foreign Lands and People,’ whereas the selections from Chopin’s Nocturnes reveal Loussier’s skill as a solo unaccompanied musician.”

For years, Loussier has been consistently celebrated for his versions of Ravel and Debussy, both of which are included here. “I was fascinated by the avant garde minimalism of ‘Bolero de Ravel,’” says Loussier. “The constant crescendo, a repetitive and insistent theme in the orchestral version of the piece, created a new challenge when reinterpreting the piece for only three instruments!”

The Debussy album, meanwhile, remains “the masterpiece of the latter-day trio,” says Shipton. “Listen to ‘Clair de Lune,’ and revel in its liquid beauty as you join Jacques in celebrating his 80th birthday.”

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