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Creole Connections
Morten Gunnar Larsen (piano)
rec. 2013/14, Rainbow Studio, Oslo, Norway

Morten Gunnar Larsen divides his time between classical music and jazz, with a speciality in ragtime, so it makes sense that he would turn his attention to ragtime’s precursor, the Creole piano music of the 1800s. This is winning stuff with more similarities to ragtime than you might expect. It’s remarkable to think that, at the time, nobody was writing even remotely similar music in Europe.

Ernesto Nazareth was a Brazilian, and though his tangos might not match up with the style of Piazzolla’s, they’re kinetic little pieces that build up energy as they go along, like an avalanche. Villa-Lobos called him “the true incarnation of the Brazilian soul”. “Odeon” is one of his most famous works with an instantly recognizable opening tune. “Labirinto” has some funny hesitant pauses in its theme but “Batuque”, a ball of energy, may steal the show.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the ultimate Creole composer, a New Orleans native who travelled the hemisphere before he died young of overwork. Dying of overwork? Yes: Gottschalk reportedly once scheduled concerts in 85 different cities over a 20-week stretch. His music absorbs African, Caribbean, American, and still more influences; he wrote everything from a Chopinesque rendition of U.S. patriotic tunes to a mini-opera, Escenas Campestres Cubanas, with an orchestral interlude that’s the single jazziest thing I’ve heard in any piece pre-1910 (review.) The “Danza” here is a piano version of one movement from that mini-opera.

Ernesto Lecuona and Astor Piazzolla need no introduction but Ignacio Cervantes was a sort of “national composer” for Cuba after the turn of the last century. There’s a fine Naxos album dedicated to him. David Thomas Roberts is an American pianist and arranger whose suite of pieces about New Orleans can be found on YouTube; “Maria Antonieta Pons” is a freakily accurate pastiche of the styles you’ll hear elsewhere on the album, especially Ernesto Nazareth’s Brazilian style. That said, I prefer the other living-composer contribution, a soft-spoken habanera-type-dance by Hal Isbitz, dedicated to the performer. Isbitz is a retired computer programmer whose golden years are being spent writing ragtime tunes.

Speaking of the performer, Morten Gunnar Larsen is a perfect fit for this music. He has an absolute ball playing everything on the disc, and is as deep inside the Creole musical language as anybody can be. It’s an ideal match, especially with the presence of a piece written for Larsen. The pianist’s goal is to introduce this music to his native Norway. That’s great, but you don’t have to live in Norway - or the Caribbean - to enjoy this album.

Brian Reinhart

Detailed Contents List

Ernesto NAZARETH (1863-1934)
Odeon – Tango Brasileiro [2:51]
Labirinto – Tango Brasileiro [3:43]
Batuque – Tango Caracteristico [4:00]
Carioca – Tango [4:19]
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Danza, Op. 33 [6:17]
O, Ma Charmante, épargnez-Moi! Caprice [2:37]
Suis Moi! – Caprice [3:23]
Mazurk [4:19]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi – Tango [4:13]
La muerte del angel – Tango [4:10]
Hal ISBITZ (b.1931)
Danza No. 2 – For Morten Gunnar Larsen [2:02]
David T. ROBERTS (b.1955)
Maria Antonieta Pons [5:02]
Ignacio CERVANTES (1847-1905)
Te Quiero Tanto! [1:12]
Ernesto LECUONA (1895-1963)
A la Antigua [1:56]
La Comparsa [1:55]
Tenebroso – Tango [3:07]
Nene – Tango [2:56]
Turbilhao de beijos – Valsa lenta [7:50]
Vem cá, branquinha – Tango [2:39]
Lionel BELASCO (1881-1967)
Venezuelan Little Tune (arr. Larsen) [3:07]


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