I love jazz music for its creativity, its virtuosity, and what Whitney Balliet–jazz poet for The New Yorker, once called “the sound of surprise”. Jazz musicians have both brain hemispheres going simultaneously: all that training on the left side, all the improvising creativity on the right.
There is a Dutch pianist named Reinbert de Leeuw who recorded Erik Satie’s famous piano pieces at about one-half the tempo of other players. It was like the turntable was slowed down to 16 2/3 (some turntables were, and jazz musicians would use that slower speed to transcribe solos of Charlie Parker, etc.). Leonard Bernstein slowed the final tempo of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6, the “Pathétique”, so that it was about twice as long as other renditions. Bernstein was at the end of his life, was a complicated artist and person much like the great Russian composer–Tschaikovsky was gay but was in agony over being outed, later committing suicide. Bernstein had already gone public about his homosexuality. This was the Tchaikovsky’s swan song, so it was a sort of dialogue with death, and surely Bernstein found resonance in that .
Dave King, a drummer and composer from Minneapolis, slows things down too. His new album, I’ve Been Ringing You, on Francois Zalacain’s brilliant label Sunnyside, features interpretations of jazz classics such as Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, Autumn Serenade (most famous version was by Coltrane and Hartman), Cole Porter’s So in Love, and other often-recorded chestnuts.
But these versions are utterly different. With pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson–of The Bad Plus–the trio has crafted a really interesting take on classics that have already been recorded zillions of times. But these versions are different, and far more interesting than the others. The trio slows down and gives the music breathing room, transparency, and each note becomes more important. They give us a chance to see into the songs. I love the way the group slowly gets to the melody of Coleman’s Lonely Woman, the way they tease and suspend the melody. They make you listen and hear this familiar material in new ways.
The music is haunting and makes these old jazz classics sound new and different, mysterious and moody. The trio pulls surprising wonders out of these well-worn standards. Like me, you will want to listen more than once.
Kudos to Dave King & Co. and to Sunnyside Records for bringing out this wonderful album. My only gripe is that the graphics and info are on a dark background and you can barely read them.
p.s. 2/21: this is a hauntingly gorgeous album.