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While the line between classical music and jazz seems to look more and more faded as the decades go by, Impressions of Debussy is still an unusual project. Classical pianist Lori Sims performs selections from both books of Preludes from French composer Claude Debussy, then jazz musicians Jeremy Siskind (piano) and Andrew Rathbun (soprano saxophone) follow with “reimaginings” of same. The contrast between Sims’ traditional readings and the boys’ improvisational takes on the same pieces opens a new window into appreciation of the impressionist (a term he rejected) composer’s work. Examine, for instance, the difference between Sims’ take on “Minstrels” – jaunty, even rollicking, with a percussive attack on the keyboard – and Rathbun/Siskind’s – lyrical, swinging, with unexpected twists and turns. With the two cuts back to back, it’s easier to hear that the jazz musicians aren’t wandering as far afield as it might seem on first impression – they keep the same buoyant, joyous atmosphere, while Sims’ version has its own type of swing. Or listen to the way Sims treats “…le vent dans la plaine” with reverence to its beautiful melody, while Siskind adds a percussive element and Rathbun bursts of sound, while still keeping faithful to the original tune. The general gorgeousness of Debussy’s compositions shines through regardless of whether the approach is stentorian or playful, which is the point – the power of Debussy’s writing makes it flexible for any interpretation.
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