Bruce Brubaker: Glass Piano (Versions)

At the risk of sounding overly precious, the idea of remixing certain classical composers' works strikes me as a largely unpromising proposition: what can possibly be gained by re-working a Mahler symphony or Stravinsky's Petrouchka into some alternate form when the original is already so incredible? Similarly, while it might be interesting to imagine what a remixer would do with A Love Supreme or Kind of Blue, could a new version hope to be anything but a pale shadow of the original? For such re-imaginings to succeed, perhaps what the remixer needs to do more than anything else is put as much distance between the original and the re-work as possible, as doing so means the new treatment will not too greatly suffer in a comparison and be judged on its own terms.

Such considerations could be said to apply to Glass Piano (Versions), a forty-minute collection that stretches Bruce Brubaker's solo piano performances on his recent Glass Piano recording into dramatically different forms. In this particular case, it's the productions that re-shape the album's material into something new and unfamiliar that impress most of all. The best of the bunch, an Akufen treatment of “Metamorphosis 1,” finds Marc Leclair re-shaping the original into an inspired fusion of loping Nujazz and smokey jazz noir. With arresting vocal, bass clarinet, and clavinet elements woven into the arrangement, the track's about as unGlass-like as a treatment could be, even if the haunting melodic progression from the original still appears within the Montreal-based producer's overhaul.

A close second is Francesco Tristano's “Knee For Thought,” a ten-minute club dynamo that could easily be mistaken for a treatment by his sometime collaborator Carl Craig (tellingly the remix was produced at his Planet E studio in Detroit). Tristano turns out to be a natural choice for the remix set, given that he was a student of Brubaker's at the Julliard School in New York, and the two still sometimes play together. In this case, the version segues from an opening piano-based introduction into a synth-powered swinger that swells incrementally in detail until a muscular kick drum arrives seven-and-a-half minutes in to give the gyroscopic material extra drive.

The other remixes are fine though not as captivating as Akufen's and Tristano's: in his twinkling “Tangerine Sunset” mix, John Beltran re-models “Metamorphosis 3” with a mini-orchestra of guitars, strings, and synthesizers until the nine-minute overhaul approaches near symphonic levels; Biblo converts “Metamorphosis 4” into a trippy, vocal-laced version that's equal parts ethereal ambient and pulsating underground techno; InFiné's young protégé Julian Earle twists “Mad Rush” into a Baleiric house strut that's not unappealing; and Plaid re-fashions “Metamorphosis 5” into a downtempo hip-hop-flavoured jam. All four are worth a listen, but it's the other two that truly stand out.

October 2015