Quartetski Does Prokofiev

Visions Fugitives Op. 22
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 171 CD

Nearly 90 years after its Petrograd premiere, “Visions Fugitives” the “savage and sensational” 22-minute piano piece by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), has been admirably recast into nearly an hour’s worth of quartet jazz, by expanding the improvisational qualities of its 18 themes.

Credit for this re-imaging goes to bassist Pierre-Yves Martel, a Vanier, Ont.-native, who produced, arranged and music directed the CD. But the transmutation of the piece depends on the contributions of all members of the Montreal-based quartet: trumpeter Gordon Allen, Phillippe Lauzier, on alto and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet and drummer Isaiah Ceccerelli. Martel, who also plays early music on viola da gamba and with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, instinctively knows how to recast classical pieces so the improvisations aren’t segregated from the themes. Instead the composer’s atypical pitch and tempo direction are given added fillip with improv-jazz techniques. Maintaining a reverence for the original composition, Martel still allows his team to, for instance, transform “Con vivacità” with inferences from Classic Jazz, including slap bass lines, pressured growls from Lauzier’s horn and Allan’s wah-wah trumpet. Similarly, “Inquieto” see-saws between droll buffo interludes featuring rubato trumpet braying and sweeping sul tasto string work and a brisk parade ground pulse, strengthened by pedal-point, bass-clarinet snorts.

A notable landmark, the CD not only suggested unexpected material available for jazz exploration, but proves that rethinking and remaking a score can create a musical invention that’s as profound as – or even an improvement on – the original.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 338