GULDA Piano Woks (Jones)
Friedrich Gulda’s jazz and pop persona didn’t always sit well with critics and fans who wished he’d simply focus on his ‘day job’ as a major-league interpreter of the Austro-German classics. Certainly Gulda wasn’t a raving jazz/pop original, yet the compositions featured on this release attest to his affection and respect for these idioms, along with clever intelligence and humour.
The virtuoso momentum generated in Gulda’s variations on The Doors’ ‘Light my fire’ can easily overpower the theme’s modest dimensions, yet pianist Martin David Jones resists the easy temptation to overbuild, interweaving the notated and improvised variations with unpressured unity. Of the 10 short pieces comprising Play Piano Play, Nos 1 and 5 could easily be mistaken for early-1950s Dave Brubeck, while slower movements like No 7 reveal Gulda’s gift for fashioning heartfelt ballads tinged with the kind of melancholic passion associated with Michel Legrand.
Perhaps the 1965 Prelude and Fugue represents Gulda’s most ambitious example of ‘written-out jazz’, although Jones’s stiff articulation of the fugue’s syncopated rhythms can’t hold a candle to the swinging nonchalance of Marc-André Hamelin’s recording (Hyperion, 6/08). On the other hand, Jones establishes a far more convincing ‘groove’ in the Sonatine’s ‘Shuffle’ finale, whose modal harmonies Jones correctly likens to those in Miles Davis’s ‘So what’. The disc concludes with two short compositions respectively dedicated to Gulda’s two sons. Für Rico evokes upbeat 1970s American television theme songs but the music loses something in translation via Jones’s unidiomatic phrasing. Given his strong improvising in ‘Light my fire’, I was surprised by his less-than-inspired noodling midway through Für Paul, although he shapes the outer lyrical sections sensitively. His informative, well-written booklet notes shouldn’t go unmentioned.