I know that from the few regular readers I have around here, I might get some severe flack. And from all others who have probably written this site off as another one of those useless and uniformed vanity projects, I’ll probably get a “told you so”. Still, I’m not going to back down.
I don’t know about you, but if you have a larger collection of music, you might well have an imaginary section or two entitled “Perfect Dinner Music” or “Soft as Soft Can”. I do.And I’m about to tell you a few things about a CD that has been so severely criticized by just about every mainstream and dedicated critic that it’s almost become a point to ridicule said effort. It is certainly in the vain of the kind of criticism that I abhor; you know, the kind that simply can’t get off its high horse, the one that aims the most poisonous of arrows at someone who might have had simple passion driving him- or herself, even with commercial interest at heart.
Not that I care.
Within my large collection I have a small (imaginary) section that holds what I would call “the perfect dinner CD”; a session that is so unobtrusive to be almost inaudible. The kind of session that is quietly lyrical; the kind of CD that simply doesn’t have a single moment to scare people off, the one that probably adheres to the simplest tastes and is accepted by even those ears that start screaming at a simple note that rises above all others.
The way I’ve written this introduction, it almost sounds like I am defending “Muzak”, elevator music or even the least of musical efforts. I’m not. And I don’t intend to. I’m just verbally trying to fend off those voices that think that Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane are the most stimulating artists to put on after a week of excruciating work, at dinner with the person(s) of your choice, in moments that simply don’t call for spectacular showman- and musicianship.
Yes, I like simple stuff.
And Frank Chastenier’s “for you” (2004) is deceptively simple, soft-boiled and unobtrusive.
I’ve always liked introspective people and musicians. Many of the ones I have taken a liking to these past decades, from Paul Desmond to Bill Evans, from little-known Carsten Dahl (Denmark) to Ed Thigpen, himself a master drummer of ballads and introspective playing, Tord Gustavsen, who is quite cerebral, and many others. Yes, the people I’m lobbing into one basket here are wildly different talents, but it is the basic vibe I got off them that has kept them at the forefront of my musical universe. It was that quiet, relaxed, knowledgeable and totally subdued playing that attracted me to their style(s) in the first place.
Frank Chastenier is not a world-renowned pianist. Although it is certainly a pity, I do not believe he is really known outside of German/European insider circles. Chastenier, who has been a member of perhaps the only really stellar big band we have to show for ourselves over here nowadays, the “WDR Bigband”, is also one of the most active, busy and in-demand pianists we have had here for decades, someone who is revered by anyone he has recorded and played with, a uniquely gifted musician who can handle the most complex arrangements, who can throw out a multitude of those himself and someone who can adapt to the most serene as well as the most outrageous settings, both musically and compositorically.
An old-school sideman.
One who is trusted across the board and who is called when things get steamy.
And he put out “for you”, a session that has attracted more vitriol in many circles than others have collected in a lifetime.
Simple me, again, has a hard time understanding that intense amount of ammunition that has been fired at him, simply because I enjoy that very recording so much. It’s the kind of session that garners positive reviews by those people who are deemed “simple” by jazz critics and that negative reviews are thrown at by those people who deem his kind of music “Muzak”, “forgettable”, unworthy of attention.
I beg to differ.
We don’t have tonal extravaganza here, no free blowing and (extreme) playing, the dynamics are level and not a single musical framework is busted wide-open.
What we have here is a man who, in a comfortable and relaxed setting, is throwing out a whole load of tasty flourishes, who is obviously very aware of what he can do … and then decides to withhold in favor of the totality and tonality of the session. We have a musician who doesn’t HAVE to prove anything, simply because he has done so time and again. The “WDR Bigband” is nothing to sneeze at and if you have ever seen them in a live setting, Quincy Jones and Frank Foster were the types of musicians who might very well have taken a very deep bow and said “Yep, that’s it.”
When I bought Frank Chastenier’s debut album, I was actively searching for something that is quiet, that is relaxed, that is unobtrusive, that is informed … that retains musicianship that is based on decades of artistry. For a while I abstained from hitting that “Buy Me Now!” button, simply because some – certainly not all, as many were extremely favorable – reviews trashed this release so severely that I thought I might as well shoot myself in the head before dishing out my hard-earned cash.
Maybe it takes a certain disposition to really get into this release, but if it does, I certainly have it. In a world that is so tumultuous already, loud enough to make even a quiet human being squeal in pain, it is my inner self that never stops trying to unearth music to counter that busy atmosphere.
I found Bugge Wesseltoft, I found Tord Gustavsen, I discovered Jan Johansson, I enjoy the hell out of Bill Evans, and I added Frank Chastenier to the roster.
Since I bought this CD, there hasn’t been a quiet evening without a full run through his recording. None. It always ends up on my CD player at those moments
“For You”, released by Universal Jazz Germany in 2004, is a classic trio album recorded by Frank Chastenier (piano), John Goldsby (bass) and Hans Dekker (drums). There are guests, like Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Till Brönner (trumpet), and the string section of “Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg“, but they blend in so smoothly that one doesn’t notice much (spoken from a positive vantage point).
You do have to be German to appreciate one of my personal highlights on this CD, Herbert Grönemeyer’s “Mensch“, which, in its original form, was one of the biggest hits here a while back, but a bunch of standards, “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields), “I’ll Never Smile Again” (Ruth Lowe), and “Someday My Prince Will Come” (Frank E. Churchill/Larry Morey) might alleviate that deficit.
If we add “Bei dir war es immer so schön” (Theo Mackeben / Hans Fritz Beckmann), an old 20s song, and “Berlin, dein Gesicht hat Sommersprossen” (Hildegard Knef / Charly Niessen) plus a Chastenier original, “For You”, which gave this CD its title, and the final track, “Alone Again (Naturally)”, the smash-hit put out there by Gilbert O’Sullivan, we are given both a melancholic and melodic first-take approach to music that has shaped Chastenier’s musical universe. Maybe it’s just me, but I understand where he is coming from and I really appreciate his take on what he has presented here.
If we get back to that “perfect dinner CD” opener, which was definitely not meant as a denigrating line, it is Chastenier’s masterfully soft touch, with a bunch of consciously-placed erratic notes inbetween, which – to me – manages to isolate the musical center of each tune, the essence of it all. And Chastenier does so in such an inconspicuous manner to allow one to just have this session play, play and … play again.
I’m a huge fan, and although I don’t think the follow-up album
manages to live entirely up to my expectations (to stay with the dinner and food imagery, that second release has an air of “seconds”), I highly recommend this CD which, if you are so inclined, can put you and your guests at ease without dumbing everything and anything down.
And, because I’ve eaten more than my share these past few years, “for you” is also one of the very, very few CDs of choice when I write, work … or am otherwise ready to have a quiet evening all to me, myself, and I.
There could be worse.
Frank Chastenier. for you. Universal Jazz Germany, 2004.
Musicians: Frank Chastenier (piano), John Goldsby (bass) and Hans Decker (drums).
Guest musicians: Till Brönner (trumpet and Flügelhorn on tracks 2, 3 and 7), Tim Lefebvre (bass on tracks 4 and 6) and the string section of “Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg).
Liner notes: Roger Willemsen.
Art Direction and Design: D. Rudolph.
01. The Way You Look Tonight (10:21)
02. Mensch (05:20)
03. I’ll Never Smile Again (07:06)
04. Bei Dir War Es Immer So Sch
05. Someday My Prince Will Come (06:26)
06. Berlin, Dein Gesicht Hat Sommersprossen (03:15)
07. For You (03:38)
08. Alone Again (Naturally) (07:39)