Ravel: Bolero (UltraHD review)

Also, Loussier: Nympheas. Jacques Loussier Trio. FIM LIM UHD 079 LE.

Quick: Is it classical jazz or jazzy classical?

That's the question listeners have been asking of the Jacques Loussier Trio for the past fifty-odd years. Loussier and his jazzmen have been bringing us their renditions of popular classical tunes for a long time. Combining classical and jazz in really good recordings, they have also long been an audiophile's delight. The jazz ensemble has done Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Handel, Mozart, Ravel, Satie, Vivaldi, Schumann, you name it, and they've sold a ton of albums over the years. If you like what they do, this is another album that will please their fans, the disc sounding better than ever in its new remastering.

Pianist Jacques Loussier has worked with several different trio partners in his time. The present album lists the lineup here as Loussier on piano, Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac on bass, and Andre Arpino on drums. Loussier made the Bolero album for Telarc in 1999, and FIM (First Impression Music) and LIM (Lasting Impression Music) remastered it to audiophile standards in 2014 using their UltraHD and PureFlection technologies. With a warhorse like Bolero and a coupling of Loussier's own creation, though, this one may be toss-up for many listeners. But, then, there's the sound, about which there is little question: Audiophiles may want it for demo purposes alone.

Anyway, the program begins with a jazzy take on Bolero by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). After initially writing a part of it for piano, the composer asked a friend asked to listen to it, saying "Don't you think this theme has an insistent quality? I'm going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can." Most recordings of it last between twelve and eighteen minutes, the score indicating a Tempo di Bolero, moderato assai ("tempo of a bolero, very moderate"), and the composer preferred it taken fairly slow and steady. In a 1931 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ravel went so far as to say the piece lasts seventeen minutes. He would even criticize conductors (like Toscanini) who took it too fast or conductors who sped up toward the end. I mention this because Loussier and his pals take it at just a few seconds over seventeen minutes.

Not that Loussier's rendition actually sounds a lot like the orchestral version Ravel envisioned or even the solo or two-piano arrangements of it. Still, that's OK; Bolero apparently has more uses in it than a Swiss Army Knife. Loussier's arrangement maintains Ravel's rhythms while seemingly improvising on the melody in new and, well, jazzy ways. So, yes, you still get the full flavor of Ravel's familiar number, and you get an all-new jazz rendering of it thrown in, with the cymbal and later the snare drum leading the way. It's like two for the price of one: Buy one, get one free. Remarkably, it's all highly musical and eminently listenable as well, thanks to the expert musicianship of the players.

Jacques Loussier
Coupled with Bolero is a seven-movement piece called Nympheas ("Water Lilies"), composed by Loussier himself. Loussier based the music on paintings by the French impressionist Claude Monet depicting Monet's flower garden at Giverny. It's important that the colors of the music at least somewhat remind us of the colors and nuances of the impressionistic paintings.

I found Loussier's Nympheas even the more compelling than his Bolero, perhaps because as good as Loussier's Bolero is, I've already heard it done enough different times in enough different ways to last a lifetime. With Nympheas we get a rich assortment of graceful lines, gentle beauty, and refreshing energy. The movements alternate a contemplative tranquility with a lively power, producing some fascinating and wholly engrossing results.

As usual for FIM/LIM, the disc comes packaged in a glossy, hard-cardboard fold-over case, the disc itself housed in a static-proof inner jacket, further enclosed in a bound paper sleeve, along with a twelve-page set of notes, text, and pictures.

Jacques Loussier and his ensemble originally recorded the album in 1998 for Telarc Records at Studio Grande Armee, Palais des Congre's, Paris. FIM/LIM producer Winston Ma and Five/Four Productions engineer Robert Friedrich remastered the album in 32-bit Ultra High Definition and PureFlection replication processing.

The clarity and definition on this disc are a joy to hear. Highs sound extremely well extended, clear and vibrant. Lows are appropriately robust. And midrange transparency is exemplary. Moreover, transient response is quick, the dynamic impact is solid, and the ambient hall resonance is lifelike. In essence, you have three musicians in the room with you, piano center, percussion right, bass very slightly left. Yet the stereo spread is not so great as to exaggerate the players' positions. They appear, in fact, well clustered between the speakers. As far as concerns FIM/LIM's remastering, the sound is clearer and more dynamic than ever, the aforementioned transparency all the more evident.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa