Review Summary: Bach gets played, and improvised over, by a Jazz trio. It is surprisingly good.3 of 3 thought this review was well written
Bach is arguably the greatest composer to have ever lived. He is also arguably the least accessible to those who don't enjoy classical music. His music is very structured and self contained. His music is difficult to phrase and play. His music was considered passé by his death. Bach owes his current popularity in part to composers from more then a century ago who succeeded in a revival of early music in the 19th century. So it should be no surprise that the music of Bach sounds archaic by todays standards. No, the surprise comes with the freshness that Jacques Loussier adds to these timeless works of art. To add to the shock we have to remember that Jazz music might as well be as old as Bach in the collective consciousness. Doesn't it seems odd then, that adding these two art forms together Loussier was able to create a wonderfully ageless sound? It does, but this does not stop the truth that "Play Bach No. 1" is a album breaming with old ideas that seem new and exciting.
The Album begins with the first prelude of The Well Tempered Clavier. Even if you have hated classical music all your life you will recognize the piece. If you aren't paying attention you might not notice the buzzing bass fluttering around the piano. As the drumming begins to subtly enter the picture you begin to notice that this isn't old fashioned Bach. We have to wait until the end of Bach 's written work for the real jazz to start. And on cue you hear a drum fill and some smooth improvisation. The album has just gotten the respect of every elevator in town. The trio just glazes over the improvisation section like you have heard a million times in shopping malls, cheep restaurants, and any other place where you might find the least offensive music on earth. But at 4:21 you can forgive Loussier for falling into that trap because he begins the prelude again. This time at lightning speed with a walking bass line and a drummer at full swing. You might find yourself shaking your finger along with the music. Now is when you forget that the notes being played are close to 300 years old and the album turing around is a bit over 50.
The next few tracks follow a similar formula. Bach is played for a few seconds and then the trio begin improvising smoothly over the established themes. While the music every now and then gets close to adding the dreaded "zac" to the genre the trio always pull back and start up a new improvisation when they overstep their bounds. And the real genius sets in during the beginning of the third track (Prelude, BWV 847) when they manage to to get the piano line, written by Bach, to fit perfectly with the bass and percussion. Then you stop thinking of the music as jazz or as classical but as a new creation. And while this brilliance last for only a few moments at a time you can't complain when they stop it because the musicianship throughout the whole thing is stupendous. The improvisations are just cool enough to pass for jazz and they last just long enough between Bach phrases that they liven up the record fantastically. The piano work is also fantastic during the Bach as Loussier voice leads excellently and phrases in a very conservative and traditional manner, all the while being experimental enough during his improvisation to add stark contrast between the Bach and his improvisation.
The Album climaxes with the famous Toccata And Fugue In D Minor. The improvisation on this track is ridiculously good. The album is recorded in good enough quality to have you guessing about the release date for a good long time before you come to 1959. The music too feels so fresh, the jazz does not rely on obscure chords and esoteric melodies and the classical isn't enclosed by the predictable and estranging counterpoint, that you could fool your friends into thinking this was released yesterday. The second half the album plays much like the first. It moves between fantastic fusion and coming close to , but never crossing, the line into elevator music. Then again it is jazz fusion so this is one of the better examples of how the genre can actually be captivating.
Overall the music is finely written, the improvisations range from the extraordinary to being just above ordinary, and the musicianship is top class. The album sounds new despite the age of the music within and is a must listen to fans of Bach and a excellent album for anyone else.