Marc van Roon: Inventions & Variations
Review by Mark Werlin - January 3, 2017
Classical listeners will appreciate the thoughtful treatment of Bach's themes, and jazz listeners with open ears will enjoy the skillful work of an accomplished modern pianist in this inventive set of new music.
The presentation of 18th-century forms in a modern context can illuminate the long path of development of newer music—the piano preludes of Shostakovich are one example. But recording an album of spontaneous jazz improvisations inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's keyboard music is a risky proposition. In decades past, baroque and early classical music was reinterpreted with varying degrees of success by the Swingle Singers, the Jacques Loussier Trio, and the pianist and radio host Marian McPartland, whose Bach-inspired contrapuntal arrangement of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" was an audience favorite. The artistic risk lies in the possibility that a hybrid of ancient themes and modern forms may fail to bridge the distance that separates them.
Pianist-composer Marc van Roon builds such a bridge on the strong foundations of conservatory studies and considerable experience of jazz improvisation and composing. "Inventions & Variations" presents a rewarding journey to Bach lovers and jazz aficionados alike.
The keyboard works of J.S. Bach, his English and French Suites, Well-Tempered Klavier and keyboard concertos, course through the fingers of many contemporary jazz pianists. But does that music lend itself to jazz interpretation? Pianist Marc van Roon has something different in mind. More than half of the pieces in the set bear little resemblance to themes or forms of Bach. In the liner notes van Roon explains:
"I have labeled those improvisations that are closer to the text and score as variations and those improvisations that emerge more spontaneously… as inventions."
In his "inventions" Van Roon is creating new European jazz with a greater than usual acknowledgment of historical antecedents—and not all of those antecedent composers lived in the 18th century.
Track 13, invention eight, played almost entirely as sustained block chords, shifts total centers freely, more Second Vienna School than Collegium Musicum Leipzig. Track 15, invention nine, draws on the harmonic language of Debussy and Messiaen and incorporates a climactic phrase that recalls the opening movement cadenza of Prokofiev's second piano concerto.
The Bach-inspired variations do artistic justice both to the old maestro and his modern disciple. In contrast to French clarinetist Louis Sclavis, who intentionally performed acts of 'violence' on themes of Bach's contemporary Jean-Phillipe Rameau ("Les Violences de Rameau" ECM 1996), van Roon doesn't treat the material as grist for aggressive deconstruction, but more as a point of departure for thoughtful and meditative discourses. He doesn't overly linger on familiar themes before developing his personal variations.
Marc van Roon performs on a 1925 Steinway that has been in his family's care for more than a half century. This piano has a warm tone that is well suited to the baroque-inflected variations and to the modernistic inventions.
Producer-engineer Bert van der Wolf, known for his recordings of classical music on the Challenge Classics label, brings the same technical skill and aesthetic judgment to his recordings of contemporary jazz music. "Inventions and Variations" was recorded at a favorite site, Evangelisch Lutherse Kerk Haarlem in the Netherlands. The same location was used for Marc Van Roon's previous record with his trio, Marc van Roon Trio: Quantum Stories, and the remarkable Tony Overwater Trio: Jungle Boldie. Presentation of the piano is neither too close nor too far, and clearly situated in a real acoustic space with a three-dimensional quality that DSD recording technology brings to home listening.
Copyright © 2017 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net