Great or not, Lacques Loussier has quietly made a tremendous impact on British culture
4 / 3.5 Stars
CD 1: 27 tracks, 137 mins
CD 2: 22 tracks, 131 mins
I’m not sure whether to describe Jacques Loussier as ‘great’. He does not come across as either a technical master or a musicians’ musician, but he enjoys vast popular appeal and his influence is huge – not least because of his effect on one of Britain’s greatest-ever singles.
Procol Harums’s own website quotes singer Gary Brooker as admitting he “was influenced by Bach’s Suite Number 3 in D Major, Air On The G String, as played by Jacques Loussier on a TV advertisement for Hamlet cigars” when co-writing “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Often listed among Britain’s favourites in both their respective fields, both the adverts and single became iconic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIckHmwZAeI
Such a popular classic, played in an easy-going style, made Loussier’s career, so it is no surprise that the first of these two retrospectives to celebrate the pianist’s 80th birthday, Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Bach begins with “Air on the G String” and stays with the composer for a whole double album.
Bach’s snappy pieces seem designed to hold attention and their melodious themes are ideal for improvisation. Loussier’s style occasionally emphasises Bach’s classical origins, but normally places the accent strongly on jazz – and the switch to the latter can be stark, as in “Concerto in C Minor BWV 1060, Allegro.”
Apart from “Toccata and Fugue” and “Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D Major,” which each pass the ten minute mark, these are concise works, even with Loussier’s embellishments. With Bach’s sound so well-defined, both discs flow well together. With well-known tunes dotted about (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” also appears), the Bach release is bound to be a crowd-pleaser.
This is very much a piano disc, but bassist Vincent Charbonnier shares Loussier’s right hand lines in “Pastorale in C Minor,” before some walking bass and then some extended soloing. He also steps forward for some ringing, fretless fills at the start of the Brandenburg piece, which turn into a brief solo, and stands out again in the following “Affetuoso.”
The second, Beyond Bach: Other Composers I Adore, is another two-disc set, but one that begins with his strengths and takes a dip in form at the end. Already owning his excellent album based on Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” I was excited about the possible gems on this collection. Satie’s work is perhaps under-represented here at eight minutes, but is superb while it lasts.
Unlike Bach and Satie, the Vivaldi pieces are so freely improvised that much of the composer’s style is lost (apart from the striking “Summer” theme). Ravel’s “Bolero,” the longest track at seventeen minutes, also has a powerful theme that allows for both strong riffing and very free improvisation.
Loussier is often at his best with more delicate pieces and his further re-working of his French heritage with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” succeeds well.
The less inspired part I hinted at is Loussier’s take on Chopin’s “Nocturnes” at the end. It is intended as a bunch that tends towards swinging jazz, but sounds almost like someone practising. It is completely out of character with the rest of this 4-disc set.
As a celebration of some 60 years of a groundbreaking approach to genre, this collection reflects his taste and work well. Largely recorded since the early ‘90s, it also keeps it nicely up-to-date. Anyone who enjoys an easy, jazzy approach to popular classics should enjoy this.