The San Francisco Sentinel - Sept 24, 2011

Connecting with the inner child via the music of Robert Schumann’s “Scenes from Childhood”

For more than five decades, pianist Jacques Loussier has explored the fertile ground where the structure and traditions of classical music intersect with the spontaneous and exploratory nature of jazz. In the early years of his career, his Play Bach Trio focused on developing improvisatory compositions around the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. In later years - with the aid of a newly formed trio assembled in the 1980s - Loussier expanded his repertoire by taking a similar approach to composers like Debussy, Ravel, Vivaldi, Beethoven and others.

The Jacques Loussier Trio - including Loussier, bassist Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac and drummer André Arpino - brings its jazz sensibility to the work of Robert Schumann with the release of Schumann: Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood). The Loussier Trio recording puts its unique improvisational spin on the 13-song opus that Schumann composed in 1838 as a fond tribute to his childhood.
“This particular work by Schumann is ideal for reinterpretation in a jazz setting,” says Loussier. “Childhood is perhaps the most playful and carefree time of one’s life. In the same sense, jazz is perhaps the most imaginative and carefree kind of music ever composed. It only makes sense, then, to reinterpret the compositions by Schumann that capture the most memorable and cherished moments of his youth.”

In keeping with his ongoing commitment to infusing classical music with elements of the jazz idiom, Loussier’s approach to Schumann’s music is equal parts composition and improvisation. “When I prepare the music,” he says, “I write down the principle part of the theme at a time before the recording process begins, but it’s not fully realized until we are in the studio and recording. I rearrange and change things, and I discover new things in the process.”

This process of rediscovery is fully evident in the 13 tracks of Kinderszenen, from the opening lines of “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen” (”Of Foreign Lands and Peoples”). The unmistakably Latin flavor of this track was an idea that came unexpectedly, Loussier admits. “This first song was intended by Schumann as an introduction,” says Loussier, “and the style here is a bit of bossa nova. This was a surprise for a trio that’s interpreting the music of Schumann.”

The followup track, “Kuriose Geschichte” (”A Curious Story”) is just what the title suggest – a brief but engaging musical tale that moves along with the help of an intriguing melodic-rhythmic combination.

Further into the set, “Glückes genung” (”Happy Enough”) begins with a full-bodied piano bed that eventually segues into a more lighthearted and straightforward arrangement. “Wichtige Begebenheit” (”Important Event”) delivers a similar change-up, beginning with a mysterious and atmospheric configuration but ending with something akin to a march rhythm.
“Ritter vom Steckenpferd” (”Knight of the Hobbyhorse”) is a bouncy affair that maximizes the combination of Segonzac’s bass lines and Arpino’s drum work. The latter takes a lengthy solo midway through that suspends the time signature to its elastic limit.

The closing track, “Der Dichter spricht” (”The Poet Speaks”), is a lush poignant piece in which both Schumann and Loussier bid an emotional farewell to this most innocent chapter of life.

”Even without bringing improvisation to the compositions, the music of Schumann is already very beautiful - especially when he is composing pieces about the joys of his childhood,” says Loussier. “The challenge is to come up with improvisations that bring even more power and meaning to his music. I think we have done that with this recording. We have taken some of his beautiful memories and presented them in the context of music that is free-flowing and lyrical - which is what the best moments of childhood are about.”

Sean Martinfield