DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Jacques Loussier Trio play BACH…and more, Blu-ray (2004/2014)

A fine video concert by Mr. Play Bach himself, Jacques Loussier, on his 70th birthday.

Published on March 21, 2014

Jacques Loussier Trio play BACH…and more, Blu-ray (2004/2014)

Jacques Loussier Trio play BACH…and more, Blu-ray (2004/2014)

Performers: Jacques Loussier, piano/ Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac, doublebass/ André Arpino, drums
Program: BACH: Fugue No. 5; Gavotte in D, Pastorale in c; Air on a G String; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; Harpsichord Concerto in D: Allegro; DEBUSSY: Arabesque; L’Isle joyeuse; SATIE: Gymnopédie No. 1; RAVEL: Bolero
Studio: EuroArts (2/25/14) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD, color
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English, German, French
Worldwide region code
Extra: Loussier in conversation
Length: Concert – 98 mins.; extra – 14 mins.
Rating: *****

Who knows why this live concert recorded in 2004 is just coming out now? Anyway, it’s a doozy, and was in celebration of the 70th birthday of Jacques Loussier, who is not the only pianist who has jazzed up Bach over8 the years but certainly the best known today. His trio, Play Bach, has sold over six million albums, doing better in Europe than the U.S. of course.  The venue happens to be J.S. Bach’s “own” church, that of St. Thomas in Leipzig. He was the organist there. Some of the wooden benches look extremely uncomfortable, with the audience members at strange angles to the performers in front of them. The concert also marked the 254th anniversary of Bach’s death.

There are not many jazz artists making an actual living off their performing, so Loussier certainly deserves credit.  His trio had disbanded but was reformed in 1985 and that’s the same musicians who perform here. The original Loussier trio stuck entirely to the music of Bach, but now he has gotten into a more far-reaching program with modern French composers such as Ravel, Debussy and Satie. I especially liked the two Debussy selections. Don’t expect wild and swinging jazz improvisation—Loussier explains in the interview that these are actually fixed compositions which he has created out of the Bach pieces and other originals. They might even be considered more similar to the improvisations of Bach and others in the Baroque period, except of course without the bass and drums.

Both the trio’s version of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and of Ravel’s Bolero are considerably different from the originals, but become interesting works on their own in their effort to avoid some of the repetitiousness of just transcribing the originals to the trio format. The first still has its three movements but the piece is shortened and has more contrasting sections to it. And I can imagine some listeners who can’t stand Ravel’s Bolero to actually enjoy this shorter version. This concert reminds me of the jokes about Miles Davis never smiling; Loussier keeps a most serious scowl until the final bows before the audience, when flowers are thrown at him.

There have been some audiophile and hi-res reissues of some of the Play Bach series in the past, but the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 track on this concert probably surpasses all of them. The string bass is especially clear and strong. The video is also excellent, with details of the beautiful church and interesting closeups of the three performers. A major improvement over earlier videos by the trio.

—John Sunier




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