Three of a Kind – my top three albums

#2 – Balance in all Things

                                                        Jacques Loussier – Plays Bach

(In 1959 Jacques formed the Play Bach Trio with bass player Pierre Michelot and percussionist Christian Garros. They used Bach’s compositions as a base for jazz improvisationand had many live appearances, tours, and concerts, as well as a number of recordings. The group sold over six million albums in 15 years.)

It was another Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing in the 18th century, who espoused the concept of ‘balance’ – in thought, aspiration and the arts. But balance is a difficult path to tread in the world of music. One could argue that the greatest music is that which is either to the left or the right of the mainstream. Very few artistes, it seems to me, have made their name by producing work that is ‘balanced.’ We seem to prefer the extreme – or at least those on the roads to the extreme.

But for me, Jacques Loussier and his trio have in this album produced a unique and  remarkable  mid-point between classical music and jazz.

It may come as a surprise that the second of my lifetime top three albums is the Jacques Loussier trio playing their interpretation of Bach, hot on the heels of prog rockers RUSH. Or perhaps not. Here too, in the Loussier album, I discovered music that manages to be at once challenging and familiar. Musicianship that both inspires and challenges. And I find music that I would happily have with me for the rest of my life.

Apparently, when it was first released it suffered from the opinions of the critics on both sides of the musical world. Classical buffs didn’t like it because it wasn’t ‘classical’ enough and the Jazz fraternity didn’t approve because they felt it wasn’t ‘Jazz’ enough.  It fell between two stools (or should that be schools?) so to speak.

But perhaps that’s why it’s such a great piece of work. No, if you are looking for a faithful interpretation of Bach you won’t find it here. Nor will you find the classic songbook jazz interpretation – begin with the tune, improvise and return. No, instead you will find three musicians taking elements of Bach and interweaving instead their own rhythms, interpretations and explorations.

(Interestingly, it appears some manuscripts belonging to Mozart were recently unearthed and these show how he had improvised at a personal performance of one of his famous piano pieces. Tremendous trills and frills on almost every note – so much so that the commentator wondered if we would recognise the piece. Now I know Mozart and Bach may have had different playing styles but the evidence remains that the hallowed – we -must-not-deviate-scores of classical music ‘ain’t necessarily so’. )

If you spend your time trying to ‘decode’ the music you will probably end up sharing a room with the critics. But if you just let the music be new – different – unique – you’ll find it a refreshing experience.

And the drumming. Now, I admire and enjoy all the big guys of jazz – folk such as Art Blakey (his albums are just outside my top three) – but the work of Christian Garros is just pure joy. What most inspires me about listening to him on this album is the way (like Mr. Peart) he plays just what is right for the other instruments. It’s almost as if they lead and he follows. Sensitive, expressive and creative. Garros, in this setting, is much less intrusive than a rock drummer would be expected to be but if you listen carefully you will hear a master musician at work. The right note, in the right place, at the right time, again and again and again.

Lastly I suppose it is worth mentioning that this album is also extremely ‘chilled.’ It has its uptempo works but for those times when you want something a little laid back, ‘Jacques Loussier plays Bach’ hits the spot perfectly every time.