CD REVIEW: Vein – Vein plays Ravel

Vein – Vein plays Ravel
(Challenge Records DMCHR 71179. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This is the twelfth album from Swiss trio Vein. The band comprise the Arbenz twins pianist Michael and drummer Florian and bass player Thomas Lähns. Their guests on this album are famous English saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and a fine horn section: Martial In-Albon trumpet and flugelhorn; Florian Weiss trombone; Nils Fischer saxophones, bass clarinet and Noah Arnold saxophones.

Their well-received previous album The Chamber Music Effect consisted of original compositions inspired by a range of classical music. For this collection they have concentrated on the music of French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) who used the then brand new jazz rhythms in his music, and who travelled to New York in 1928 where he met Gershwin. Together they visited the top music venues of Harlem, hearing Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and many others. Ravel’s modern approach to composition, using traditional classical forms but incorporating non-traditional elements, in particular jazz, baroque and Spanish, as well as unusual instruments like saxophones, makes him an excellent choice for Vein and their idiosyncratic re-interpretations.

They have chosen eight Ravel pieces, starting with three movements from Le Tombeau de Couperin: Prelude, Forlane and Toccata. The trio have a impressively precise approach to intricate music – each is a virtuoso. After a delicate piano introduction, the trio are soon hurtling along, with a particularly percussive take on the Toccata. Then they tackle the Blues movement from Ravel’s violin sonata, an odd piece in its original form, which suits the Vein treatment very well, with the splendid muscular double bass making the most of the original violin part Next up is Ravel’s most well-known tune, Bolero. Here is the first of Andy Sheppard’s contributions: his playing is superb – he delivers an almost tentative start on soprano sax, with matching delicate piano and percussion playing from the Arbenzs, as piano and then Lähns‘s precise bass each pick up the theme in turn. The piece then gains momentum, driven on by the impressive horn section, to a enthusiastic and raucous conclusion.

In direct contrast Pavane pour une infante défunte, one of my favourite pieces of music, is a gentle delight. The other-wordly intro, on prepared piano, I think, sounds like a music box. The trio’s ethereal re-imagining manages to be true to the spirit of the original composition, and absolutely lovely in its own right. Ravel, who famously loved music boxes and mechanical birds would, I like to think, have enjoyed this arrangement.

Andy Sheppard guests again on Mouvement de Menuet , (from Ravel’s Sonatine for piano) with his customary warm tone, and elegant phrasing, and he and the trio play with the pretty melodies and harmonies, gently rolling through to a delicate conclusion. Finally, the trio tuck into the charming Five o’clock Foxtrot from the opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. Their Foxtrot is a rag timed delight which jauntily bounces along to its bright satisfying ending, a perfectly balanced homage to Ravel’s original gem.

This CD is a fascinating exploration of the music of Ravel who introduced jazz into classical music almost a hundred years ago, by a chamber jazz trio at the top of their game.

Vein are currently touring Russia, but are back in Europe with a gig in Lausanne at the end of October. SCHEDULE

Categories: miscellaneous

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