Following up on the success of his interpretation of Beethoven's Allegretto, from Symphony No. 7, and the Best of Play Bach, Jacques Loussier returns with his trio—including bassist Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer André Arpino—and takes on Mozart's beloved Piano Concerti No. 20 in D Minor and No. 23 in A Major.
Mozart Piano Concertos 20/23—scheduled for an October 25 release, just a couple months prior to the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth in January 1756—marks Loussier's first use of a string section in his trademark jazz interpretations of compositions by classical composers. Loussier celebrated his 70th birthday last year with his first ever solo release on Telarc, Chopin's Nocturnes.
Mozart's Concerto No. 20 has long held a particular fascination for jazz pianists, including Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. But Loussier takes the exercise to a new level by not only introducing compositional material of his own, but also by totally rearranging the piece to open up areas for jazz improvisation. "I have tried to take this music into my own territory," says Loussier, "where it's difficult even to approach the music without bringing to it my forty-five years of experience in working and researching ways of integrating jazz and the classics."
"I had played No. 20 in D Minor in concert with an orchestra some years ago, and that started me thinking how to tackle it, but had to re-think my approach completely for this recording. Mozart requires a different kind of syncopation to make this music work as jazz, so I did two things as my starting point. First I rearranged all the orchestral parts, changing the rhythmic basis of even the best known sections to accentuate the qualities of swing. Then I removed the oboes, clarinets, bassoons and French horns, so that I could open up sections of the music for the trio to improvise. Mozart used those instruments to achieve orchestral color. If you listen to the pieces, you will find some sections where I am not playing, but there is an interaction between the string orchestra on the one hand and the bass and drums on the other."
This sense of innovation is equally prevalent in the Loussier trio's interpretation of Mozart's Concerto No. 23. De Segonzac's brief bass solo in the third movement is a segment that Loussier finds especially satisfying. "It's a short solo, but very effective," says Loussier, "and it acts as the transition from one section of the music to the next, completely changing the mood…he is playing pizzicato jazz bass, and this contrasts with the bowed bass of the orchestra. The actual notes played by the orchestra are as Mozart wrote them. What I have done is alter the rhythms, and sometimes—as in the beginning of No. 23—created an additional rhythmic layer with the bass and drums that is superimposed over the strings."
In many respects, classical music and jazz are separated by decades if not centuries of musical fashion and cultural aesthetics. But in the right hands, these two genres can merge seamlessly to create something entirely distinct from its original components. "My challenge," Loussier says of the two Mozart concerti, "was to find ways of making them swing, but not to lose their intrinsic romance."
Loussier is equal to the task. More than any other artist—classical, jazz or otherwise—he continues to build a solid bridge between two worlds. Mozart Piano Concertos 20/23 is the latest triumph in that career-long endeavor.