Jazz and classical (symphonic, operatic et al) have always been blood relatives. Opera has more in common with jazz than would seem obviously apparent on the surface. There have been opera inspired jazz albums. The best of these show the personality of both composer and musician in equal if not alternating measure. The latest foray into the field is by DYAD which is the duo of Lou Caimano on alto saxophone and Eric Olsen on piano doing works from Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) operas. Both musicians show what they can do in their solo statements but the performances remain in the service of the melody of which Puccini can be said to be the king (of his era). The musicians are coming from a not strictly jazz background and this allows for their interplay to have a different type of unity than were they just from the jazz world. The looseness is replaced by emotion which resonates as Puccini had intended yet the template still managing to feel as of our time, valid.
“Musetta’s Waltz” (La Boheme) has a casual grace. At points the alto has a near clarinet cadence. Throughout the album Eric’s articulation is crisp, there are points where some of the decisions in what/how he plays within his solos show some non-jazz choices and it adds to the ability of the album to call one back for repeated listening. Both musicians can play but need not play in a certain way all the time.
“Act 1 Overture” (Madame Butterfly) at the beginning the piano has a regal darkness. The tempo is quicker than the previous two pieces and shows that speed does not restrict the possibility of beauty. During the middle section the deep voice of the piano does an almost Bach (ish) counterpoint while the sax takes on longer than previously heard lines of a vocalese quality yet without any discordance.
Within each piece there is abundant skill but lack of filigree which can distract or slacken the tension. With this project of course there are plenty of solos and three way dialogues, between the musicians and the spirit of Puccini but there is no radical point of departure, one could almost imagine a war privation Puccini using some of these arrangements for reduced performances as he waited out the troubles much the way Igor Stravinsky did with “Histoire du Soldat” (1918).
There is a unified feeling to the album above and beyond all the songs originally coming from Puccini’s pen. To get full enjoyment from the album one need not be familiar with the original operatic source material. The sonics of the album are impressive. The pristine sound when heard through headphones presents a crystalline intimacy of experience without any digital frigidity. Eric’s playing especially during faster tempoed moments shows him taking different avenues then what would usually be percussive runs falling off the Bud Powell family tree.
“E lucevan le Stelle” (Tosca) is my favorite track. It starts with a swirling minor chord flurry offered up by the piano. Lou’s tone has the good tartness of a white wine made more enjoyable by being served ice cold. The piece is melancholy yet beautiful… Towards the end of the piece there is lone piano which is cinematic in its ability to call forth images, different for every listener. The sax comes back at the end, a bluesy lament for two.