With the Blujazz release of “Sea Changes” (BJ3433), Olsen has brought his two musical worlds together again, arranging Classical pieces (and one very special Pop song) into works of delightful Jazz. With Olsen are soprano and tenor saxophonist Don Braden, bassist Ratzo B. Harris and drummer Tim Horner. Together, this ensemble is called the Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet.
It was exciting to simply unpack the CD and flip it over to read the track list. My eyes widened as I read the list of some of my favorite pieces of all time freshly arranged for Jazz by a guy who knows how to do it. You’ll see what I mean.
The album opens with “Be Now My Vision,” an arrangement of the traditional Irish hymn “Slane.” For a band called the Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet, the title of the piece should not be treated as coincidence. In fact, the song sets the vision for the quartet as well as the listener.
The opening of the piece makes you think that you have stumbled onto a John Coltrane recording. The gorgeous intonations of Dan Braden and the clean play of Eric Olsen sounds like the grand dialogues of Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. All the while, Ratzo B. Harris and Tim Horner are a perfect rhythm section, showing steady support and a lot of groove.
Gabriel Fauré’s “Elegy” is a beautiful remembrance. Originally written for cello and piano, the sax and piano arrangement is perfect for Jazz voices.
Olsen and Braden are meant to be together, it would seem. Braden’s tonality and Olsen’s directness are flawlessly complementary.
The piece itself is a lovely and melancholy look back. It recalls people and places once shared but now gone, filling the heart as the music fills the ears.
George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” is, of course, the aria from “Porgy and Bess.” In the opera, it is sung by the character of Serena who is grieving over the body of her murdered husband. It is one of the most heart-breaking vocal pieces ever.
Olsen has arranged it wonderfully for piano and sax. Harris’ bass is mournful alongside Horner’s shuffling drums. Olsen plays wistful runs and Braden’s soulful sax calls after the beloved. It ends in despair with Olsen’s fine, light touch and a groaning bass.
One fine surprise on the album is the inclusion of the furiously-paced “Carmen’s Prelude” from the Georges Bizet opera “Carmen.” It is a beautiful melodic line that is set ablaze by the quartet.
During my playing of the CD, my wife walked in and said, “Is this ‘Carmen’?” Obviously, then, the arrangement does not lose the identity of the wondrous original.
This is one of those tracks that requires multiple plays just to concentrate on the individual parts. Harris gets a great bass solo near the 5-minute mark, a beautiful thing. Who knew Bizet could swing?
From the fierce to the fragile, “Immortality” from Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” follows next.
Messiaen wrote most of “Quartet for the End of Time” after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of France in 1940. The premiere of the piece took place in the cold and unheated confines of Barracks 27 of Stalag VIII. The German officers of the camp sat with the prisoners-of-war and—freezing together—heard the first performance of the incredible composition. “Immortality,” the final movement of the quartet, is a staggering artistic resistance to evil.
Eric Olsen has brought new life to “Immortality”—the lexical incongruity notwithstanding. The voice of piano, sax, bass and drums cry out against the relentless darkness and it is a triumphant shout of light over darkness, life over death.
John Lennon told George Harrison, after the recording of “Something,” that George “may have given us the best Beatles song ever.” This is one of my favorite Beatles songs, even though I was a John Lennon guy.
Olsen arranges Harrison’s original into a Jazz beauty. Braden’s work on the soprano sax is soaring and full of life. Harris’ bass solo keeps the chords and offers his unique voice to it. Through it all, Olsen holds the line in this splendid tip of the hat to “the quiet Beatle.” Not so quiet when these guys are finished with him.
I have never been able to get enough of Jean Sibelius. Eric Olsen makes doubly certain of that with his arrangement of “Finlandia.”
The vision of Olsen’s opening chords is expanded with Braden’s picturesque sax. Good God. This is gorgeous. The wash of Tim Horner’s brush and cymbals is like fine mist whispering across a springtime meadow. The warm stroll of piano and bass with the occasional skip of the drum is like a couple’s walk together.
It was originally a protest piece against the censorship of the Russian Empire in 1899. It is indeed a love song, a love for home.
It is one of my favorite pieces of music and Eric Olsen has not only done no violence to the Sibelius original, but a great service to the non-Classical listener by reintroducing the gorgeous themes of the Classical music world.
Frederic Chopin’s “Waltz in C# Minor” is another fine example of just that. Harris and Horner swing behind Olsen’s piano.
Oscar Peterson’s father once told him that Jazz is fine “but learn Chopin because he will be your musical vocabulary for anything you want to say on the piano.”
Eric Olsen has taken that Classical vocabulary and written a sweet Jazz poem with it.
From the first time I heard Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” at the age of 10, I have always been hooked by “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Rick Wakeman used it as the finale for his 1974 album, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth,” and the four cellists “Apocalyptica” closed their concerts with it “in case some of you thought you were coming to a Classical music concert.” Eric Olsen uses it as the final track for “Sea Changes.” It does not disappoint.
With Olsen on the Nord Piano 2, Braden runs the melody on tenor sax. Harris and Horner create a fun bit of funk for the background. The layering of the voices is like looking at the geological strata on a mountain side.
There is menace and courage, wit and wisdom, light and dark all in tight interaction. This is riotous good fun.
“Sea Changes” is a stunning rainbow bridge between the worlds of Classical and Jazz. Eric Olsen’s ReVision Quartet has managed the crossover with dedication and devotion to both the originals and the new arrangements. Equally at home in both realms, Olsen has caused the listener to delight in the Jazz expression of Classical majesty.