Review by: Jens F. Laurson
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Before the year is out, 2020 will see Beethoven-themed everything, so it’s perhaps not so surprising to find non-classical acts having some fun at the master from Bonn’s expense: Jazzrausch Bigband, for example, which has released “Beethoven’s Breakdown” on the fine jazz label ACT, which itself has a track record of excellent classically inspired jazz. (Dieter Ilg’s Parsifal or Otello suites come to mind). It’s an album full of surprises, starting with the name: Whatever you might be expecting “Big Band Beethoven” to mean, that’s decidedly not what you are getting here.
First, there’s the synth-brass opening that sounds like something straight out of Philip Glass–until the techno beat drops, punctuated by jazzy syncopations with a Jan Garbarek saxophone line floating above it. It works to create plenty of momentum and sounds so original that you might well wonder, after six minutes, where in the world the Moonlight Sonata was hiding in this piece. That’s a thread that runs through the album: The source material that lies beneath what Leonhard Kuhn arranged or outright composed (four original sonata movements) for Jazzrausch Bigband and trombonist Nils Landgren only occasionally comes obviously to the surface. Most of the time it is deeply embedded and refashioned and distorted much like the picture of Beethoven on the CD cover. Although that moves the release further from classical music’s Beethoven, it also turns out to be a very good thing. You can’t expect to give ol’ Ludwig the simple Jacques Loussier treatment and expect to succeed. At least this is truly creative and singular.
Even where the thematic material is pushed to the forefront, as with the powered-up theme of the Seventh Symphony’s slow movement, it is only ever the starting point for original work that plays off it: trumpets and vocals, in this case. You might think that reliance on rigid underlying, partially synthetic techno beats would be limiting, but it works surprisingly well with the rhythm section and layered tracks of brass, guitar, and voice. In the end, your love for Beethoven will not determine your response to this album. But if, apart from your penchant for LvB, your taste runs to Lounge and Acid Jazz, and if you enjoy albums like St. Germain’s Tourist or Thievery Corporation’s Babylon, this is mandatory listening. And if you don’t like the idea of turning Beethoven into electro house big-band tracks you’ll know well enough to stay the hell away from this disc.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Beethoven's Breakdown
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (Arr. by Leonhard Kuhn): Piano Sonata Op. 27/2 "Moonlight"; Symphony No. 7, Allegretto; Two movements from String Quartet Op. 131
LEONHARD KUHN: Sonata