Play Bach, Vol. 1
Jacques Loussier / Christian Garros / Pierre Michelot
Waxtime 771802 / 180g (reissued from Decca 40.500)
Real music exists beyond the page.
-J.S. Bach, in response to a friend who’d asked why he was improvising
Before crossover albums were not hip in any way whatsoever, Jacques Loussier’s jazz-infused Bach inventions were so cool they should have come with their own wayfarer sunglasses. Louissier was classically trained and has a stupendous technique. Instead of going into concert pianism, I for one am glad he decided to jazz up classical.
His riffs on Bach, accompanied with drums and bass (his group would come to be known as the Play Bach Trio, and they would come out with 5 more all Bach records) reveals more about the composer than a lot of recordings I’ve heard that keep it staid. They weren’t the first to make Bach swing (that would be Django Reinhardt), but they’re definitely the most persuasive.
In Bach’s day, improvising on another’s theme was a great compliment, and on this record, nothing could be closer to the truth. In the C major Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier that opens Play Bach, Loussier actually plays through the entire piece before he and the accompanists add their spice. While in the famed Toccata and Fugue in D minor that opens the B side, the instrumentalists’ skills at transcription and execution should only be talked about in superlative terms.
Purists are probably loathe to praise the trio, but no one can deny the sheer magnetism of the playing. With different accompanists Loussier would go on to put out albums that explored the jazzy side of Beethoven, Vivaldi and Satie, and a fantastic solo crack at Chopin’s Nocturnes. Louissier is something of a celebrity in the populating world of classical jazz, even conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from the keyboard for a swinging version of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.
Still, this first recording by Louissier and his trio might be the most indispensable.