March 2004

Jacques Loussier Trio - The Best of Play Bach
Telarc SACD-63590
Released: 2004

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Telarc's commitment to SACD cannot be questioned. The Cleveland, Ohio-based label has released over 100 SACDs so far and has plans for 40 more SACD releases this year. So it's curious to me that The Best of Play Bach is Telarc's first SACD from the Jacques Loussier Trio, one of Telarc's most distinguished jazz acts. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that no previous Loussier Trio release was recorded in DSD, SACD's native language. For me, each new Jacques Loussier CD has been reason to visit Barnes & Noble. I'm always wondering where he, bassist Vincent Charbonnier and drummer André Arpino will go next.

But perhaps I should first explain that Jacques Loussier and his mates rework classical music, mostly Baroque, in a jazzy vein. Loussier has been doing this since the late '50s, and for Telarc he has released collections of works primarily by Bach, but Handel and Vivaldi are also represented, as are Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel. However, my favorite Loussier recording is Satie: Gymnopedies, Gnossiennes [Telarc CD-83431]. There is something sublime about Satie's works done by a piano trio, especially when the leader and pianist is Jacques Loussier.

The Best of Play Bach is a compilation of Loussier's three Bach-inspired Telarc collections. It celebrates Loussier's 70th birthday and marks the 45th anniversary of the first live performance of the original Jacques Loussier Trio as well as the 20th anniversary of the reformed Trio that appears on all of the Telarc recordings. It is also Telarc's first SACD-only release, although The Best of Play Bach is a hybrid disc, so CD-only buyers are covered. The SACD layer has superior bass -- it's weightier and perhaps a small bit deeper too. But the CD layer sounds very good and very close to that of the SACD. With some speakers, the slightly decreased bass energy could be welcome. The Best of Play Bach is a multichannel recording as well, but I listened in stereo.

If you sample only one cut from this recording, choose Gavotte in D Major. You've heard this music before, but not played with the creativity and swing it is here. While Loussier's reworkings are respectful to the original works, they show how much room there is in the music for some tasteful re-interpretation and improvising, especially with Bach. This is the key to the Loussier Trio's success: They pay homage to the works they perform even while creating new ways to experience them. It's great stuff.

While The Best of Play Bach is a compilation of previously released works, I discovered while comparing cuts from it with cuts from the original CDs that the Presto from Bach's Italian Concerto is different from the version on the CD. I immediately quizzed Telarc's PR person, who told me that when Jacques Loussier delivered the master tapes of his Plays Bach CD [Telarc CD-83411], he couldn't find the original Presto from that recording. So he sent another take, which is what Telarc used. Chalk one up for anal retentiveness!

I hope The Best of Play Bach is a sign that all new Telarc releases from the Jacques Loussier Trio will make it onto SACD. I'd love to see the back catalog re-released on SACD as well.