There’s a fine tradition of JS Bach-inspired jazz piano, from Hazel Scott and John Lewis to Jacques Loussier and Dave Brubeck, and with the worlds of both Bach and jazz being so very infinite the fountain of fresh insights is unlikely ever to run dry.
David Rees-Williams’s ‘Classically Reminded’ Bach jazz trio arrangements are certainly unique, too: 13 Bach melodies subjected to a ‘light, jazz-inspired treatment’, his overall aim to ‘expose far more of the romantic nature of these great melodies’. To distinctiveness you can then add exemplary written communication, because flip through the booklet and you’ll find each Bach starter melody written out in staff notation, accompanied by Rees-Williams’s chatty and knowledgeable notes on what aspects of it he’s then chosen to develop. Still, his apparently perfectly earnest description of the Fifth French Suite’s Loure as ‘cloyingly romantic’ did make me chuckle, not least because by the time it appeared at track 3 I was already feeling very much as though I should be perched, Bellini in hand, at a suitably plush chain hotel piano bar; a feeling hammered home by the pedal-rich ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ at track 5, with its broken chords, easy-listening harmonies and organ (synthesised, methinks?) background cushion.
It’s not that there isn’t plenty of up tempo stuff on here, not least two peppy Scarlatti sonatas (in D major, Kk492, and F minor, Kk239) that have been added to set Bach in some contemporary context. You also can’t fault the skill on display: the wealth of jazz and classical expertise underpinning every arrangement, Rees-Williams’s own silky jazz touch and the lovingly oiled artistic synergy between him, Neil Francis on bass and Phil Laslett on drums. However, anyone who prefers their jazz to come with a touch of edge may find this a tad too soft-focus.