Tuesday evening was one of my happiest in recent months. I love classical music. I also love jazz. I love string ensembles. I love the piano too. I had everything that I could possibly hope for that evening. Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, A French jazz pianist and composer from Lyon, Jean-Louis Rassionfosse a bassist from Belgian teamed up with the famous Debussy Quartet which had been playing together for more than two decades in an evening of wonderfully elegant and by turns, contemplative and lively jazz music, improvising with themes borrowed from the quartets of such illustrious French Impressionist composers as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.
It wasn't the first time that the sextet played together. They first met in 2012 and have since sought inspiration from each other, united by their common love of sound and rhythm. I forgot who said it. There are no boundaries in music: no classicist, no romanticist, no pop, no rock, no jazz. There are just two kinds of music, good music and bad music. But their co-operation is the best kind possible. They do not require each other to abandon their own playing style or what they like to do, nothing against their own natures. Instead, they draw out from each other potentialities they did not know existed, experimenting, exploring, experiencing, feeling new possibilities. It's not at all a kind of peaceful co-existence of two otherwise different traditions in which one tradition merely demands the other to respect or at least to tolerate their own values or methods but an active reaching out into the other's territories and techniques so as to make good music together each using their own peculiar resources. It's in the best jazz tradition of spontaneous improvisation. But improvisation is not something exclusive to the jazz tradition. Even in classical music, there is a long tradition of playing the cadenza in concertos. Bach, Mozart, Joachim are all experts in impromptu music. In a way, classical and jazz are a match made in heaven, classical music provides the structure, discipline and beautiful melodic motifs which the jazz musicians can freely and spontaneously exploit and jazz adds its own "swing" into the otherwise too formal and regulated rhythms of classical music.
The first piece the group played for us that evening was a composition by Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, a rather personal piece, Song for my Father, with plenty of pizzicattos from the strings and of course the jerky jazzy rhythm, interspersed with quiet piano passages, with some excerpt from the Vivaldi's Four Seasons and some from Bach.
The next piece was an adaptation the String Quartet in G minor by Claude Debussy called Achille in Marciac,a very small country town of some 500 people in south western France, made famous each year by its 2 week jazz festival when more than 5,000 people coming in from all over France and other parts of the world would crowd into that little town to listen to the jazz musicians and have fun with such music.The Debussy adaptation was followed by two composition called the "Northern Lights" and "A Kiss by the Sea". The fifth piece is a very quiet and very beautiful piece by just Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven and the bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse
Then it was the turn of an adaptation of the string quartet of Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F, which has become a rather jaunty piece with some strange and quick melodies.
After Ravel, it was the turn of an adaptation of Bach's Concerto for the Harpiscord in F minor, giving the piece a completely different feel, with heavy bass and a rather slower rhythm and some sitar like sound.
After that, it was another composition by Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, a piece called "Merci" or thank you, supposed to end the concert. It's another piece adapted from Bach. If he were still alive, I don't think Bach would object at all. More likely, he might even suggest some other improvisations. But who knows? Was this Jean-Philippe's way of saying "thank you" to Bach?
The group got a rapturous reception. They appeared happy and gave us two encores. The first one is called Between the lines, another of the composer's own work and the second one is one he created whilst he was in Osaka, called "Invisible things" One could feel in the second encore piece an obvious sense of peace, probably from the ubiquitous influence Zen pervading Japanese culture.
I also include below an interview in French in which Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven explains the concept behind his partnership with the Debussy String Quartet.