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Stephane Grappelli with Orchestra - Plays Jerome Kern

From any perspective, the playing of Stephane Grappelli and the music of Jerome Kern were a perfect combination. More than anyone else, Kern was the man who brought the full grandeur of traditional classical music to the Great American Songbook, with his soaring melodies and sophisticated harmonies, and Grappelli, more than anyone else, was the musician who showed that the number one implement of classical music – the violin – could work in a jazz context. In their defacto “collaboration,” both Grappelli and Kern mutually found a copasetic midpoint between American jazz and the European classics, and were sublimely suited to each other.

Grappelli (1908-1997) was hitting yet another of his many career high points in the late ’80s. Even as he was turning 80, the venerated violinist was touring and recording constantly, much in demand as a hard-swinging elder statesman of the violin and of European Jazz. He was regularly heard on two or three albums a year at that point, all of them special, none more than this brilliant songbook package.

It’s to Grappelli’s credit that even accompanied by a full symphonic contingent – including several dozen of his brother violinists – that the project never sounds like anything other than a jazz album. Grappelli and his rhythm section cohorts, including guitarists Martin Taylor and Marc Fossett, drummers Alf Bigden and Graham Ward, and bassist Jack Sewing, keep the whole thing moving without a let up. The string and orchestral arrangements, which were the work of three top notch orchestrators (Jorge Calandrelli, Laurie Holloway, and Daniel Freiberg) as supervised and conducted by producer Ettore Stratta, provided beautiful backgrounds to the more rhythmic proceedings up front.

The album opens almost deceptively with symphonic lines that suggest a purely classical interpretation of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” rather like Arturo Toscanini conducting Kern, but in Senor Calandrelli’s ace orchestration, the formality of the intro soon gives way to a softly swaying samba rhythm, enhanced by Jobim-style octave-chanting by Marc Fossett. Likewise, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” opens rubato, and rather than rev it up into high-speed swinging, Grappelli plays it slowly but with no less unmistakable jazz feeling, and though he’s playing rather than singing, you can’t help but feel the vernacular American-ness of Oscar Hammerstein’s work, the “D” rather than the “th” in “Dat” and the apostrophe rather than the “g” in “lovin’.” (There’s also more nonverbal, off-mike chanting from Mr. Fossett.) Inbetween, Grappelli and Mssr’s Taylor and Fosse charge ahead on “The Way You Look Tonight” with an abandon that suggests the great violinist back in his halcyon days as co-headliner of the legendary Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

“A Fine Romance” also contrasts classical strings with South American samba rhythms, with Grappelli and Kern (not to mention Mr. Taylor) both feeling completely comfortable ensconced by both. Mr. Taylor launches “Yesterdays” with a few solo guitar notes of introduction before Grappelli enters with the melody. “Ol’ Man River” had already evolved into a concert piece (sung by opera singers and the like) even while Show Boat was still running on Broadway in 1927, and, as such, it makes a perfect vehicle for the unusual conceit of two jazz string soloists, Grappelli and Mr. Taylor, accompanied by a concert-style string orchestra. “All the Things You Are” was, likewise, an instant jazz standard (in spite of how the show that introduced it, the 1939 Very Warm for May, was as legendary a flop as Show Boat had been a hit), but few jazzmen having bothered to learn its beautiful verse, which Grappelli “sings” with the sensitivity of a Sinatra.

Grappelli opens “Pick Yourself Up” teasingly, just hinting at the famous tune, before diving into it headfirst. Although the Swing Time standard has hardly been neglected by jazz musicians, Grappelli, Mr. Taylor, and Mr. Fossett make “Pick Yourself Up” suddenly seem like we haven’t heard it often enough. “Why Do I Love You” is the third Show Boat standard here, and features the melody stated twice – first, with as little rhythm as possible, with the bare notes plucked pizzicato, almost dispassionately, as if to create suspense, and then again by Mr. G in his hard swinging, manouche jazz style. “I Won’t Dance” contains a hint of Spanish melody, as if the title were “I Won’t Flamenco,” before Grappelli and his two guitar cohorts charge in with the Kern melody phrased in their now-familiar Franco-American groove.

“Long Ago and Far Away” is the most moving tune in the collection: Grappelli plays piano in the introduction, and in doing so turns the keyboard into what he makes sound like a giant pizzicato fiddle. He then states the melody no less emotionally on violin, returning to piano in the coda. Grappelli was old enough to have heard all of these songs when they were new – so who knows what long ago and which far away the venerated French master was thinking of as he played?

Stephane Grappelli · Plays Jerome Kern
Just A Memory Records · Release Date: May 10, 2011

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** Just A Memory Records is a subsidiary of Justin Time Records **

..:: SOURCE: DL Media ::..