It's easy to forget, in the classical world at least, that André Previn has had two other musical careers. Readers of Film Music on the Web may well know him better for his film career ranging from 1949's The Sun Comes Up to Rollerball in 1975. His score for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1960) is particularly celebrated, yet in total Previn worked on 71 films either as composer, arranger, orchestrator, song-writer, conductor or pianist. Meanwhile both classical and cinematic worlds may be equally surprised by Previn's jazz career - though this part of Previn's life does warrant 123 pages in Martin Bookspan and Ross Yockey's André Previn: A Biography (Hamish Hamilton, 1981). The truth is, jazz has always been important to Previn, and though The Penguin Guide to Jazz by Richard Cook and Brian Morton only goes so far as to allow that he was "more than just a dabbler", in the 1950's he played with Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Dizzie Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald and wrote/arranged for Count Basie, Woody Herman and again, Benny Goodman.
After a long break Previn returned to jazz in the late 1980's, recording "After Hours" (1989), "Uptown" (1990) and "Old Friends" (1991) for Telarc. More recently he has teamed-up with bassist David Finck, who himself played with Woody Herman, recording an all-Gershwin album, "We Got Rhythm" and an all Ellington disc, "We Got It Good and that Ain't Bad" as well as performing together live. This current album, recorded at The Jazz Standard Club in New York in October 2000 is Previn's first live jazz release since "Live at the Musikverein" with Mundell Lowe and Ray Brown.
Dispensing with the drums which usually go with piano and bass to make a jazz trio results in a fluid, alternately laid back and effervescent set, Previn and Finck offering twelve tunes which won't win any awards for breaking new ground in jazz, but which provide much sophisticated melodic pleasure. The numbers range from standards "My Funny Valentine" (Rogers & Hart), "I Got Rhythm" (Gershwin), "Lady Be Good" (Gershwin) to slightly less well-known numbers "Come Sunday" (Ellington), "Chelsea Bridge" (Strayhorn) to Previn's own "Hi Blondie" and a fusion of "Quiet Music" written with celebrated lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman with a Finck composition, "New Valley". But whether it is the up tempo gyrations of Russ Freeman's "Batter Up" or the more lyrical "My Funny Valentine" Previn makes the melodies his own with surprisingly harmonic inventions and idiosyncratic rhythmic variations. Its Previn's show - he even brought own Bosendorfer "Imperial" grand to the club - but Finck gives more than sterling support. He is a subtle and understated yet vital collaborator and partner in the music-making process. Previn notes "Dave is the most virtuosic bass player I've ever played with. Cross rythmns ands key changes don't bother him at all. And he knows how to swing." Listen to Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love?" and you know its true.
If light, melodic but intelligent and impeccably crafted jazz appeals, this album won't disappoint. The sound is excellent and the only indication of the audience comes in the applause at the end of each number. Yet their presence gives the programme that something special which live rather than studio jazz exhibits and which makes it such a special form. Not an album to convert anyone to jazz or to set anyone's world aflame, but a fine and entertaining disc which should give much pleasure to many listeners. Highly recommended.
Gary S. Dalkin
[no rating given]