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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Dyad Plays Puccini




1. Musetta's waltz

2. Ch'ella mi creda

3. Act I Overture (from Madam Butterfly)

4. Che gelida manina

5. In quelle trine morbide

6. O mio babbino caro

7. Un bel di

8. E lucevan le stelle

9. Chi il bel sogno di Doretta

10. Nessun dorma

Lou Caimano - Alto sax

Eric Olsen - Piano


One of my biggest disappointments with much jazz nowadays (and popular music in general) is that some musicians have forgotten how to write melodies. Why do so many jazz artists still perform items from the Great American Songbook? Because such composers as Gershwin, Kern, Berlin and Porter knew how to write memorable melodies (as well as tunes with interesting chord sequences which are ideal for improvising upon). So perhaps it is no surprise that saxist Lou Caimano and pianist Eric Olsen have turned to one of the most melodic of all opera composers - Puccini - and interpreted some of his arias as jazz.

This album arose because Eric Olsen's wife Pamela commented that Lou Caimano's saxophone sounded like an opera singer. Lou's alto sax is thus ideal for improvising on some of Puccini's most famous compositions. Who does not know such arias as Nessun dorma or Your Tiny Hand is Frozen (Che gelida manina)? Such familiar melodies are perfect as the foundation for duets between Lou and Eric, especially as Lou's tone on the saxophone is pure and almost classical, and both men are experienced in jazz as well as the classics. Jazz saxist Paquito D'Rivera said "Caimano and Olsen go back and forth through the borders between Classical and Jazz with the ease of a couple of North-Mexican coyotes crossing the Rio Grande".

Olsen seems to be the slightly jazzier of the two, accompanying his companion with jazz chords (sometimes deliberately discordant) and supplying several excellent solos. One of my favourite Puccini songs is Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (from La Rondine), where Olsen retains Puccini's beautiful introduction. This is perhaps the loveliest tune on the album. By contrast, Nessun dorma is almost avant garde, as the piano goes oriental and the saxophone takes off in all directions.

Some of the tunes are transformed miraculously. Musetta's Waltz (from La Bohème) becomes a jaunty jazz waltz, with gliding solos from piano and sax. After some twisting and turning counterpoint, the Overture to the first act of Madama Butterfly turns into an outright swinger, complete with stride piano. Other compositions are treated less jazzily: Che gelida manina (from La Bohème) is interpreted with sensitive lyricism, while E lucevan le stelle (from Tosca) is treated with the kind of plaintive drama that suits this extremely melodramatic opera.

The recording is radiantly clear and skilfully balanced. I highly recommend this album for its brilliant originality, its intriguing blend of classics and jazz, and the breathtaking skill of the duettists.

Tony Augarde

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