Tony Andrews writes:
When you fuse two genres of music, the outcome can be heaven – but equally it can become hell and an awful mess.
The French Pianist Jacques Loussier was one of the pioneers of fusion when he introduced his jazz interpretations of Bach back in the 1960’s. You have to be very young not to have heard and been wooed in to a false sense of security by his version of “Air for a G String”. This was used for what seems like decades on the TV advert for Hamlet Cigars – with great success. Unfortunately, Jacques Loussier took the Bach thing way too far and eventually either he realised this or his record company forced him to attempt recording other composers.
Some of these worked very well, with Debussy and Erik Satie being good examples but when he tried Handel in my opinion it ended up as a total disaster. My feelings are that Jacques Loussier did a good job of fusing Jazz and Classical music – but the question is this; if only his playing could have been just a bit more precise and his interpretations just a bit more exciting – where could this have led to?
About five years ago I heard a rumour that a brilliant British pianist had taken up the challenge to recreate the Jazz-Classical fusion but with added excitement. I went searching the record shops and found the CD “Hidden Colours” by The David Rees Williams Trio. This had come about after the Trio was heard playing “When I’m laid to Earth” by Purcell from their CD “Classically Minded” on BBC Radio 3’s “In Tune”. The producer had been totally overwhelmed with many 1,000’s of emails to find out where to buy this amazing music. Fortunately the BBC had enough sense to record “Hidden Colours” ASAP and put it out on the Late Junction’s own label.
I got home with my new find and warmed up my HIFI and on it went and I literally fell back on to the settee in a state of shock. It wasn’t a bit like Jacques Loussier. It was without doubt a fusion of Jazz and Classical – but it was so exciting and the piano technique so precise that I knew I was listening to a master of the instrument in every sense.
I played it through to the end, went and made a sandwich and played it again. The feeling of exhilaration was not diminished the second time round and I discovered that although every track was inspired and better than I could have ever imagined, my favourite was and still is “Picardy” which is based on a French Carol.
David Rees Williams formed the Trio back in 1988 with the exceptional talents of Neil Francis on Electric Bass and Phil Laslett on Drums. I have a personal dislike of the Electric Bass in what is predominantly acoustic music but I can easily make an exception in the case of Neil. His playing just flows and is so musical and full of expression and it adds to the listening experience.
This is aided by the fact he plays a fretless instrument – an instrument which is so much harder to play than a fretted bass, and this factor removes the rather plodding effect that the fretted instrument encourages. Phil Laslett is one of the most accomplished drummers I have ever experienced and he can play loud and soft with such delicacy and his timing is amazing. We have already mentioned the talents of the leader of the trio David Rees Williams and he’s a world class pianist by any standards.
I've never heard so much praise from an audience after one of their concerts at The City of London Music Festival. As people were leaving the church where the concert was held near St Paul’s Cathedral they were literally in a state of disbelief at the performance they had just encountered – and I’ m completely hooked too.
The Trio are responsible for 4 CD’s and I have already mentioned Classically Minded and Hidden Colours. These were followed by “Time Scape” and the latest masterpiece “Thinking Allowed” which has been available for about 6 weeks. The high spot for me in “Time Scape” is Bethlehem Down, by Peter Warlock. I can’t stop playing it. It has such a beautiful melody and a very original Bass line which draws you through the piece to the end. This is my favourite – but every track is amazing and each has its own charm and character.
David has used the experiences of playing with the Trio and the other recording to produce his latest offering “Thinking Allowed”. For the first time on record DRW has include Hammond Organ with a proper Leslie speaker and other keyboards and the overall sound is quite different. At first I thought this was a very brave thing to do but after several plays I realised the natural progression of style shows an added maturity to the playing and arrangements.
He also confirms just how interesting Bach can sound with his version of “Invention in A Minor” which is superb. I also love “Arietta” by Grieg and find this to be so haunting and delicate but with “Thinking Allowed” for me has so many favourites that I can only recommend buying it and listen for yourself.
the chances are you have some serious HIFI equipment and all four CD’s will give your system a serious workout. In fact I regularly despair at some of the Audiophile Record Labels when you can hear such sublime music which is so well recorded such as these – on an unknown record label. Maybe some of these labels could learn about balance and sound staging from listening to these musical efforts by The DRWT?
I’m sure that part of the success of the David Rees Williams Trio is due to the fact that he’s such a modest man and never takes his talent for granted. If you go to see him and the Trio live – which you must – then go and say “hello” and encourage him with your praise. I’m convinced that some of the most incredible performers ever, achieved so much because of their modest outlook on life. If you were lucky enough to see the documentary recently on TV about one of the most underrated singers ever, Julie London, then you’ll understand what I mean.
Go out and buy all four from amazon.co.uk or better still direct from www.davidrees-williams.com and go to see The DRWT live ASAP and I’m sure you’ll learn what a wonderful master of the piano David is and enjoy the whole experience.