ECM’s New Series has released a pair of piano interpretations of composers. One by a single pianist, the other by a single artist as well, but with a surfeit of arrangers. So, here are one’s opinion of one’s opinion…
The first one is an interesting project that took four years to complete; pianist Anthony De Mare decided to give tribute to Stephen Sondheim’s compositions, but to add into the mix he asked 3 dozen composers (ranging from classical to jazz to theatre and back)to personally arrange, or “interpret” a creative way of performing each piece. So songs from shows such as A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, Sweeny Todd and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum etc get the pen and paper taken to them by Fred Hersch, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Reich, Ricardo Lorenz, Ethan Iverson and 30 others. Well, 31 if you include De Mare’s own double duty as he arranges and performs the closing 3 cd set with “Sunday In The Park.” The result is a voluminous trip to the piano keys that demonstrates how the piano is, indeed, an orchestra in itself.
Personal favorites of songs could easily be determined by which artists are best known, but it is doubtful whether anyone purchasing this collection would have albums by each musician. Fred Hersch’s take of “No One Is Alone” is deeply thoughtful and personal, while Marsalis’ stride interpretation of “That Old Piano Roll” is vintage James P Johnson. Iverson gives a Bad Plus puree of “Send In The Clowns” and then you get Steve Reich’s idiosyncratic pulse on “Finishing The Hat-2 Pianos.” Many of the pieces have a quiet reflective mood about them, ranging from Frederic Rzewski’s “I’m Still Here” to Phil Kline’s spacious “Paraphrase” making one think that at the heart of an arranger is a deep melancholy. De Mare himself obviously has to put some of his own “touch” in each piece as soon as he handles the ivories, but that is one of the allures of a project like this; how much does a performer affect an arrangement? Good food for thought.
The single disc by pianist Horacio Lavandera explores the compositions by Argentine Dino Saluzzi. These compositions range from 1960-2002, and it’s fascinating to hear piano music performed by the famed bandoneon maestro. The material such as “Los Recuerdos” and “Romance” have a natural lilt to them, and Lavandera makes on the field judgment calls as he stretches out some material,such as “Imagenes” for 10 minutes while keeping other selections such as Moto Perpetuo” at a precise minute. Lavandera has a rich and velvety touch, mixing classical nuance with folk sensibilities during “Montanas” and glows over the ivories on “Media Noche.” Lavandera cleans and presses the material well here.
ECM New Series