The recently released Blue Intermezzzo is the second album of Andrew Roussak - I have reviewed his debut (No Trespassing) before here. One of my few complaints about that debut was the bewildering mix of styles - well, for his second, he has opted for a solo piano record which indeed makes for a more consistent album. Do not fear: no new age or even Claydermannesque playing here, this is highly artistic soft jazz, with his prog and classical roots shining through as well.
1. All good things
A re-work of one of the best tracks of the debut album ("Church bells sounds open and close a great instrumental where the piano dominates the proceedings, a bit like a romantic classical concerto at places."). In this solo piano redux it works very well too.
Yes, the timeless classic. But with a highly individual version, more up tempo than most, and with a wonderful jazzy feeling. It takes guts to include such a traditional, but Andrew really pulls it off.
3. Strange Tango
Inspired by Gershwin and Albeniz as he states in the booklet. I can hear that to some extent, but this is still a very personal composition, a far cry from commercial tango's you can hear on the radio. One of my favourite tracks on the album.
4. Irreducible simplicity
The title refers to molecular biology, but that link is lost on me. The piece is highly melodic and gives a sense of improvisation.
5. Blue intermezzo
From the moment the playing starts, I see myself suddenly in a dark and smoky bar, behind a scotch, contemplating life. It says a lot for the strength of this piece that it immediately evokes such emotions. Love it.
6. Iliade Book 6 - Swap armour / 7. Iliade Book 8 - Divine withdrawal
A curious source of inspiration for these two tracks: Homer's epic about Troy. The scenes are in no way literally depicted, and stand alone well without this background knowledge. Strong rhythms prevail throughout in the first track, whilst the second one has an almost Bachian feel to it before going into more jazz territory - and again with a thrusting rhythm.
8. Nocturne for Julia
A love song without words written for his wife. Simple and touching, with wonderful melodic twists - no pastiche on Chopin or Fields, but very much his own work.
9. Forgotten walce (a strange typo for waltz I presume)
Applying jazz harmonies to the ancient 1-2-3 rhythm, "Chopin meets Gershwin" would be a short and rather apt characterization. Intriguing and very effective.
10. Portraits of my friends
The nostalgic feeling referred to in the booklet ("Sometimes all that remains are only those old black and white photographs) shines through right from the start. A perfect way to finish off the album.
After these ten tracks, Roussak includes two bonus tracks, his own re-workings for solo piano of two Bach compositions. In general, I do not like modern reworks of classical music, but already on his debut, Roussak showed that he can go into this direction and still come up with gems.
11. Schafe koennen sicher weiden
An aria from the Hunting Cantata (BWV208), better known in the Anglo-American world as Sheep may safely graze. The purist in me still prefers the original, but there is no denying the craftsmanship in writing and interpreting this version.
12. Wir eilen mit schwachen doch emsigen Schritten
Taken from the cantata Jesu der du meine Seele (BWV78), this is a bit more effective, simply because the original (good as it is) is a little less played. Again, great transscription.
All 12 tracks are very much worthwhile and make a wonderful collection - it really works well as an album. They are played with passion and skill, demonstrating once more what an great musician Roussak is. The recording is very good as well to my taste. Interesting art work for the cover and the booklet, a step-up from the debut in that respect. All around, a top notch CD, and an original gift for the holidays season. On a scale of 1-6, a 5,5 masterpiece.