Black Mountain Jazz Club, Melville Theatre, Abergavenny, March 20, 2016
Classical to Jazz Tour
Olivia Trummer (piano, vocals); Jean-Lou Treboux (vibraphone)
Fusion of musical genres rarely occupies a position beyond mere novelty. In jazz, as a proper noun, it has become part of the music’s history, not to be re-visited unless both female and male devotees can withstand the shock of recalling musicians in bell bottoms and big frizzy hair. Combining ‘classical’ music with jazz has an even dodgier provenance, typified by the French pianist Jacques Loussier and his jazzing of J. S. Bach. It wasn’t that there was no connection between the two but that Loussier, for some reason one couldn’t exactly fathom, created a hybrid that was neither one thing nor the other, or both at the same time. Maybe we could fathom it. That’s the trouble with hybrids: they need to lose their constituents in the emergence of something totally different and new, like a chemical reaction. It rarely happens. What you end up with is adulterated parts; in the case of jazz and Bach, a double disservice, especially to the latter. But that’s a personal opinion. One should always be open to other ways of going about it. Perhaps it pays not to take oneself too seriously.
Enter the German pianist/singer, Olivia Trummer, and the Swiss vibraphonist, Jean-Lou Treboux, with evidence that the connections should be pursued, but not as part of an earnest desire to pass off the obvious as a Midas moment, which it hardly ever is.
Trummer trained as a classical pianist in her home city of Stuttgart, and as a jazz performer at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. She plays straight jazz but her classical inclinations are always on call. With Treboux about six months ago she recorded an album for the German label Neuklang called Classical To Jazz (C2J) One, and in its wake they have been on a tour of Britain and Ireland, culminating in an appearance last Monday at Pizza Express’s The Pheasantry club in Soho. The previous night they were at Abergavenny’s Black Mountain Jazz in something of a coup for organiser Mike Skilton at the club’s new location in the town. Even with a lumpen digital keyboard, which with good grace Trummer accepted in the way touring jazz pianists do but which she said she hated playing – digital pianos generally, that is – the duo went about their proselytising business. For there is still a case to be made in front of those whose love of jazz and classical music might be disproportionate, and especially before those who love both but fear an uncertain marriage.
Trummer and Treboux turned up with a printed programme, a possibly ironic detail given the nature of what they were about to do. It was almost immediately subverted by Trummer herself, who announced that jazz was about the unpredictable and so they were going to sing and play Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy, made famous by Nat ‘King’ Cole; it wasn’t on the list and it isn’t on the album. Well, it was she who played and sang and Treboux who gave a tasteful melodic-percussive depth to what she did, as well as riding out with his own adventurous solos. Then they journeyed to the terminus together in ever-inventive harness but always within the parameters of time and tempo: nothing ever too long or out of step. It was typical of all they did. So winning was the musical interplay that one almost forgot that they were making a point, with Scarlattaca, ‘inspired’ by a Domenico Scarlatti sonata, K.209 in A; Mozartlichkeiten, a Mozart freeplay on the ‘Turkish Rondo’ sonata, K.331 in A; and Paraphrase, a lengthy descant on Bach’s Partita No 1 in B Flat. Entailed in all these Trummer compositions was not the corny ‘jazzing’of a classic but improvisation arising out of a common jazz-classical pot. It was the only way to describe it. Throughout the evening we got both classical and jazz, but mostly jazz, in acts of artful cross-reference, ending with – what else? – Cole Porter’s Night And Day. Still, when a sarabande becomes a ‘vagabande’ and a gigue a ‘gigue chic’, there’ll always be a sense in which serious music is being asked to lighten up. But jazz is serious, isn’t it? Despite any reservations, ancient or modern, Trummer-Treboux is a winning combination. The two perform naturally together and their mutual instinctiveness must make them one of Europe’s most compelling jazz duos, if on this occasion dealing with a musical mixture that still has its detractors.
Images courtesy of Olivia Trummer & Jean-Lou Treboux