PARIS – Music for Trumpet by SATIE, RAVEL, PIAZZOLLA and others – Alison Balsom, trumpet – Guy Barker and Orch. & others – Warner Classics, 52:04 ****:
Alison Balsom has wanted to record a collection like this for many years – ever since she was inspired by the arrangement that Gil Evans made for Miles Davis of Rodurigo’s Aranjuez Concerto. Her collaboration with jazz conductor and arranger Guy Barker is the marvelous result.
The centrepiece of the album, both musically and physically, is the middle movement of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in F. But a wide range of musical genres surround it, from Parisian café songs to jazz to contemporary classics.
The opening mood-setter is Eric Satie’s (1866 – 1925) ethereal Gymnopedie No. 3, arranged (as is almost everything on this album) by Alison Balsom and Guy Barker. Barker is a jazz trumpeter and composer based in the U.K. He brings the forces of his large orchestra (65+) to bear in all his arrangements. Next is the only piece on the disc not arranged by Balsom and Barker, the jazz favorite Café 1930 by Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992). The Yugoslavian classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić accompanies Balsom on this piece. The big band returns in Piazzolla’s Oblivion.
Michel Legrand (b. 1932) is a composer of more than 200 film scores. His contribution to this Paris mood is the chanson La Valse des Lilas. Next is a set of three pieces adapted from the twenty-movement Vingt regards sur L’Enfant Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) for piano by Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1922). The three movements form the fifteenth of the “contemplations”, Le Baiser de L’Enfant Jésus (The Kiss of the Infant Jesus). The Messiaen is the most modern but least tonality melodic of the cuts on this disc.
Nearing the centrepiece or heart of the collection we have Maurice Ravel’s ((1875 – 1937) melancholy Pièce en forme de Habanera, originally for violin and piano, but here for trumpet and orchestra. The same combination then plays the second movement Adagio assai from Ravel’s Concerto in F. The composer is reported to have called this “the most difficult thing I’ve had to write”. It is one of the most soulful melodies in all piano literature, and the trumpet here captures and transforms that emotion.
Alison Balsom’s clear sharp attack is highlighted in another Satie piece, Gnossienne No. 3. The Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma (1905 – 1969) is next with the familiar Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles mortes), another café song associated with Paris. Al Cherry assists on guitar here. The final piece is by the legendary Belgian-French guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910 – 1953) and is call Nuages (Clouds). The solo trumpet is muted here, the piano of Grant Windsor is featured, and the album ends in a mellow, jazzy mood, just as you’d expect of a Paris evening.
Guy Barker and Alison Balsom co-produced the recording, with Steve Price doing technical and mixing work at the Angel Studios in London in May 2014. Sound is excellent throughout as are the notes. And of course the photographs of the soloist are outstanding. A good album to have in your collection.