pick-of-the-monthKeith Jarrett and Micjhelle Makarski, 6 Bach sonatas, This classical /jazz duo started playing these Bach Sonatas for fun. It's good for us that they recorded them.

Label: ECM New Series
Time: 25 Tracks / 99 minutes

At the end of the first of these two discs comes a movement that shifts up a gear and sounds like nothing that has gone before. The theme is so melodic and the allegro is so vivacious that the players seem to suddenly lose a bit of their precision as they get caught up in it.

This subtle moment catches something of the genre tension with this duo; it is as if their improvisational streak is tempted to overtake their classical discipline. Jarrett, of course, is known as a jazz great, who has recorded classics before. His last outing was Mozart's Piano concertos in the late 'nineties and before that he recorded Bach on harpsichord. He invited the classically-trained Michelle Makarski to guest on his 1994 ECM disc Bridge of Light, a collection of his own recordings, and they have been friends since.

Makarski returned the invitation to Jarrett, asking him to join her over a two year period in playing the sonatas for pleasure. For a jazz improviser, that discipline may have been an enjoyable break from the day job. It was late in the sessions that they decided to record the complete set of Bach's six sonatas for violin and piano, preserved here in the order they were written (although later in his life, Bach revised the compositions considerably).

Bach is somewhat mathematical. These sonatas, each in a different key (three major, three minor), all have four movements, alternating fast and slow movements, except for the final piece, which inserts an extra allegro in the middle. His music lends itself to a crisp interpretation that gives it both a pace and stateliness that balance well.

Jarrett was determined not to inflict any more of his personality on these works than necessary. There has been some discussion about whether these pieces are played too coldly or too emotionally. Jarrett's legato means that he plays more fluidly than many who tackle them. Yet at the same time, while some movements have a call-and-response interplay, the pair can sound elsewhere a little as if they are playing with a distance between them. I suspect that this means they have got the balance right.

Precisely played, these pieces are all enjoyable. While those familiar with them can debate how they compare against previous encounters, newcomers can enjoy a very fresh and lively set of performances with plenty of life and colour.


Derek Walker

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