Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Four Hands of Piano From James and Matsui

Altair & Vega (Tappen Zee Records) is a new album representing the collaboration between pianists Bob James & Keiko Matsui. The seven duets transverse jazz, new age and classical worlds to display the two conversing in their musical dialogue here usually playing four hands piano. James mentions that during the concert they have been performing these duets for about 9 years. As clearly evident on the live concert presented on the accompanying DVD, the two share the piano, with James playing the lower keys and Matsui the upper ones.

The music is lovely and more in the classical tradition, not that there aren’t interludes that are more jazz-inflected such as during the performances of Divertimento (The Professor and the Student) which opens with some stately motifs stated by James and echoed by Matsui with Matsui taking an impressionistic run before a jazzy bop interlude segueing to more dreamy playing.

There is a lovely solo from Matsui on Trees that is part of the live DVD concert recording (from Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild), followed by James’ Duo Oto Subito where the two state the lively theme with each taking an extended passage before they end this performance in an energetic fashion. Also on the DVD is a marvelous rendition by James of the Ray Noble standard, The Touch of Your Lips. The lengthiest performance on both the CD and DVD is The Forever Variations, which the two collaborated with its varying changes in mood and tempo. The CD concludes with James’ arrangement for four hands of Bach’s Chorale From Cantata BWV 147.

The production quality of this is marvelous with marvelous sound to display the superb playing here. The video on the DVD is beautifully filmed and employs a variety of camera angles adding to the enjoyment of watching and listening to the concert performances here. In summary, Altair & Vega present marvelous music perhaps more oriented towards classical ears but certainly wonderful to simply relax and listen and watch.

This review appeared in the December 2011 – January 15, 2012 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 339) at page 15. I received a review copy from the publicist for the release. 

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