By Brian Arsenault
Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (Steve Barta Music)
Arranged by Steve Barta
But (Not Too) seriously, folks. I am pretty far over my head reviewing Steve Barta’s new arrangement of Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio.
For one thing, I don’t know Claude Bolling’s 1975 original work. In ’75 I was more concerned about the direction of The Who and horrified at the popularity of The (self aggrandizing hipper than thou treacherous) Eagles.
For another, while I’m reasonably conversant with jazz up to a point, I don’t even know most of the vocabulary of the classical.
So here I am listening raptly to a reworking of a piece that bravely combines the two and, I’m told, had the misfortune of being popular so it wasn’t particularly well liked by critics of either genre. Additionally, in Barta’s update, a jazz trio is brought together with a string quartet and a full orchestra.
Sound intimidating? I thought so but therein is the remarkable thing. It’s immediately accessible to all. All at least who can journey from the joyous to the reflective, from lilting laughter vanishing quickly in the air to moments of sadness that are never maudlin. Beauty is what pleases, Acquinas said, and this album pleases on so many levels.
It’s theme music for a rainy Sunday morning that brings the brightness to the day. The album combines instruments and clusters of instruments that one seldom hears played together. Yet it never jars. Baroque flows into blues into a jazz rift and a symphonic echo. I think it must be complex to assemble and yet it flows into the ear as smoothly as air itself.
And how did I get this far into the review without remarking on the flute of Hubert Laws and the piano of Jeffrey Biegel? They can hear each other. They can “speak” to each other. They can interweave their charms and celebrate the many other fine musicians to be heard here. The notes and the silences both pure.
I was deep in my own thoughts and then suddenly the album was over. The room seemed just a little empty.
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Ode to Thinking (Compass Records)
I’m sorry, Bobby. I’ve liked and reviewed an earlier album. I was impressed by your book of poetry. But good god, man, I got about halfway through your new album, read on to the lyrics of some of the later songs, and decided that good mental health required that I stop listening.
We’ve all heard and loved tunes about bad love affairs and the miserable state of the world, both realities no doubt. Yet if your lovers have all been as bad as you say perhaps you need to rethink your mutual selection procedures. And I need some insight into the misery of the world, not simply your seeming regret that most of us are stupid.
The blues were about how rough life can be but they were largely made to help folks feel better. On this album, you’re like a tourniquet closing off any sense of joy. That place you liked when you were young that burned down. No wonder you’re “not going out tonight.” Too depressed. And the purple prose (poetry) of the lover who will “drink my blood like wine.” Oh please. And anyway I think you missed that vampire as sexy thing.
I am not saying there isn’t intelligence in the verse. There clearly is. And you can turn a phrase with lyrics like an “empty wishing well” and “the CD players start to rust.”
But perspective please. Irony please. Humor please. Self taken less seriously. The age of consumptive poets is over. Or ought to be.
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