Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vein Plays Ravel

Vein Plays Ravel
Challenge Records

Comprised of pianist Michael Arbenz, drummer Florian Arbenz and bassist Thomas Lähns aim to achieve with their music - their understanding of music - is nothing less than the greatest possible balance of their three voices - not simply the musical interplay of a piano trio. This genre-bending trio turns their focus in the present recording on the works of the impressionistic French composer Joseph Maurice Ravel. One of the most enigmatic figures of classical music, Ravel lived in an era during which tradition transitioned into abstract modernity and he encompassed many styles of music into his compositions including baroque, Spanish music and jazz. In a similar fashion, VEIN breaks new ground without rejecting the traditional values of jazz. This album also features one of Europe's most distinctive saxophone voices, Andy Shepard.

Certainly the trio's dazzling musical approach is evident on the three pieces from "Le Tombeau de Couperin." On the opening "Prelude," their romanticism isn't inhibited from liveliness of their improvisation. It is followed by the lyrical, meditative "Forlane," with the interplay of Michael and Lähns complemented by Florian's adept use of brushes. The adaptation of the final piece "Toccata," is primarily a duet between the brothers with Florian very prominent here. "Blues" is taken from a violin sonata and anchored by Lähns's arco playing with Michael's use of riffs, single note runs and chords supported by an a temporal employment of cymbals.

"Bolero" is the most familiar, and iconic, of Ravel's compositions, and one of the two tracks on which saxophonist Shepard is featured, along with a horn section that expresses the opulent orchestral aspect of this provocative work. His saxophone is embedded with the trio as the mesmerizing performance builds in intensity, becoming more heated until reaching an orgiastic climax. Shepard is a wonderful player with a marvelous tone and impeccable sense of dynamics and the interplay of him with trio set against the smoldering fire of the horn section is riveting.

After the fiery "Bolero," "Pavane pour une infante defunte," provides a welcome calm. Shepard returns on "Mouvement de Menuet" from the sonatina for piano, adding the warmth of his saxophone here. The trio is gripping in the closing "Five O'clock Foxtrott," with each member making significant, and unexpected contributions in a performance marked by moments of fire and lyricism. It closes an imaginative take of Ravel's music, true to the spirit of the composer, yet fresh in the adaptation of his compositions.

I received as a download from a publicist. Here is a live performance of Vein performing "Bolero."

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