Here we’ve got a double bill from the Netherlands based band co-led by drummer Jonas Linnemann and pianist Paul Stark accompanied by musicians they shared the sparkle with. It counts in a Greek bassist Vasilis Stefanopoulos who already has a track with them back to the beginning and takes part on both trio and the quartet recording. Last not at least comes young and passionate saxophonists Iman Spaargaren who completes a line up on vol.III and who’s deeply spiritual sound suits very well the romantic nature of Chopin’s music. Volume II & III suggests that there was a vol.I before. The one I don’t know. Lets’ look closer then. Both recordings are interpretation of Frederic Chopin’s music.
Vol.II, performed in trio covers composers famous late Piano Sonata No.3 Opus 58. This had been recorded by all the greatest pianists, doesn’t matter the period. Without going deeper to the subject my all time favourite performances are from E.Gilles, M.Argerich and K. Zimerman.
Now to face a complexity of such a score makeover one needs to hear the original at least once to understand amount of work the arranger has to do to adopt the complex piano tissue like that , with all its dynamic fullness, melodic passages and percussive structure originally composed for the piano to the territory of the acoustic trio. Needless to say that the point is to not to throw the child out of the bath and respect and prevent the composer’s intentions and the fragility of the original. Here is when Jonas did a wonderful job.
In an opening Part 1 rhythmic ballast of the score had been shared among the section and the piano in an absolutely astonishing way. When the double bass opening riff introduces the theme with drums’ sparkle announcing upcoming tight wave from the piano we are already surrounded with the melodic motif on which sonata builds on. With the modular shifts through the rhythm related to the tension of the score we are getting slowly to the core of the melody. That is played with all the attention that the piano script would be played with. Articulation, pace and time are more on the side of the classical performance here, than a jazz-like hybrid. And it stays like that until subject returns in repetitive quotes. This is where a jazzy counterpart is taking over. It has to be said that it is handled with the same respectful attention to the very end. The highlight here to me is Vasilis’ arco solo gently wrapped in the cymbals tapestry with the piano chords accenting the beat in the background.
More challenging is Part 2, where widely overbuilt poly-rhythmic drumming such as Ginger Baker’s African Force acts as an introduction to the subject, before a sneak of the theme even comes to the surface. Once it appears it drifts nicely like a cloud in multiple piano repetitions bringing dreamy images. Thanks to that and despite of the opening drumming cannonade the romantic spirit of the Sonata with its famous slightly melancholic tense of time had been kept and present. At least in my ears.
In Part 3 the arrangement job hits Zenith. This is most rocky sounding part with a deep bass foundation and the drum intro which wants to rock you. You can almost hum to Queen’s tune. But again this tension only builds up to counterpoint the later realise of the melody, which here in more significant way takes over towards modal direction. Again Vasislis’ elegantly articulated, played pizzicato, solo acts as a shifting gear for the piano’s driving force.
Closing Part 4 is where we see figurative finger-work of the piano going through a multiple style makeover, where between shifting tempos and multi-layered jazz piano articulations the main theme, again beautifully executed comes back and back to the surface between shifting of jazzy flourishes. This is the most like a modern piano trio sounding part with tension of the piano and articulation of accompanying percussions brings me memories of Ch.Corea’s Fiesta. Passages are fast and lucid with great sense of space and wonderfully balanced silence between the notes in both, fast and slow movements. To sum it up let me say I enjoyed every single note I heard from this recording
Vol.III in similar way covers Chopin’s Cello Sonata Op.65. Still piano is a part of the original score. One would expect then reducing trio into duo and transcript cello parts into lower octaves… but no. Not only does the drumming stay the same but it is also like that when the saxophonist joins.
Opening Allegro moderato starts exactly like an original does with an opening Arco, here performed by double bass of course. A prelude counts the piano in, but it only lasts a minute when the tasty percussion brakes in with a sax lament. This continues another two bars taking over the theme which is after that repeated by the piano again before it came back to bass to play the cello part. Another brake is even more interesting as it changes everything into the Rumba rhythm into which original them in weaved to, surrounded by the section. Piano sounds like a Cuban Sol here and I really enjoy the balance they achieved. That turns later on into the culmination involving sax playing long lamentation part over the theme kept by trio in a purely jazzy manner. After that the same theme is explored again by a double bass and Vaslis’ bowing is simply excellent here. Then next Tutti takes it to the trip across the jazz styles with drummer holding on rhythm in fantastically sparkling way from the ballroom like gentle drive, through the Max Roach alike rhythmic persuasion into the final culmination, which again involves the same styles I mentioned above.
Scherzo attacks us straight on with hot Latin Rumba taking the place of the Menuet. Once introduced, dance rhythm stays on with piano and sax sharing a duty of holding the score, but cello parts brake through between the sections and those are the most close to the original part. Percussion holds all the duties here. Keeping rhythm, breaking with gentle intros but the biggest responsibility is the gear shifting between the styles here. Like in an Allegro theme that gets repeated by the sax, but with changed tempos, multiplied layers and building up culminations it is not that obvious from the first listening.
With Largo piano passages are more accenting an emotional sax lines flying all over than holding to the melody. This is a top moment for a young tenor player to show his understanding of this music as it is all left here in his hands. And he did well indeed. With a very clean articulated sound he beautifully deconstructs melody and plays with it. Slow tempo helps to express the dignity and a simple beauty of Chopin’s vision.
After such an intro Finale could not be anything else but coming back to the aesthetic they chosen. Latin Fiesta.
I like this approach a lot. It shows dancing potential laying in Chopin’s music. Something which the Philharmonics are not showing as it is not on the menu or in the notes exactly but the way that Jazz improvisers approach musical heritage like that is completely different. The best example is here what Jacques Loussier did before with music of Bach, Vivaldi, Ravel or Chopin. I like hybrid treatment like this a lot. It always shows vitality deposited in the music which this way is not dead and keeps appealing to the one generation after another. And always in a different way. Of course the same happens in the Classical domain and the fact that upcoming generations of musicians re- read notes differently is the same sign of changes time brings. Great recording with full steam blown into the music which never sounded like that before. I am sure that Chopin would love it too.