Ravel was pointedly described by Stravinksy as a ‘Swiss Watchmaker’. This may have been a catty put down between rivals but it does pithily condense Ravel sound world.
After spending quality time with Vein Plays Ravel I have learnt to appreciate that Ravel’s dreamy nostalgic compositions are melodically rich but bound as tightly as a spring in a vintage Rolex Oyster.
Fittingly Vein are a Swiss piano trio. There background is largely chamber music based but their ambitions are such that both Dave Liebman and Greg Osby have joined them on stage. They are at home in the conservatoire but are now reserving their places in the jazz big tent. The personnel are brothers Florian Arbenz (drums) and Michael Arbenz (piano) Arbenz and Thomas Lahns on bass duties. On this new release Vein are joined by the UK’s own Andy Sheppard on saxophone and a horn section.
Le Tombeau de Couperin is the curtain raiser. It’s a suite of three parts which in its original form had a Baroque flavour. Vein’s version is full of a pensive harmony that’s pulled through with tripping, flexi tempo. Lahn’s bass is busy, forthright and top hatted by Florian Abenz’s crackerjack drumming which at times has a West Coast pulse.
Blues has an inventive pitter patter of guitar like bass lines that opens a window for Michael Abenz to drip melodies through the sieve of bass and drums.
Vein’s take on Bolero is unavoidably the show stopper. It’s by far the most familiar tune, its 16 mins in length and here Andy Sheppard and the brass section stop on by. That familiar metronomic intro presages a rich swinging game of pass the parcel with warm harmony and structure. It’s both an outgoing and an intimate at the same time. Sheppard is the star turn but the punch of the brass section is stirs the potion deftly.
Pavane is the next most famous piece and Vein treat us to a delicate bell like interpretation which compliments this limpid melancholy standard. Sheppard returns on Movement de Minute, a middle-tempo chamber workout with an ECM cut to its clothes. The album closes jauntily with Five O’ Clock Foxtrot, where the melody is lighter on its feet than usual with more space left for some spindly silhouettes of drum and bass.
Vein Plays Ravel is a very tight excursion in melody and imagination and you don’t have to be a classical music buff to enjoy it. Their sophisticated version of Bolero is worth the price of admission alone.