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Tessa Souter: Beyond the Blue

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Revitalizing the once-prevalent practice of shaping pop tunes from celebrated classical pieces, Tessa Souter spent months assembling these dozen tracks, and her diligence has paid off magnificently. Souter says her inspiration was pianist Steve Kuhn’s jazz interpretation of Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor” on his 2006 release Pavane for a Dead Princess. Wisely, she coaxed Kuhn to participate and then continued to surround herself with exemplary players, including bassist David Finck, drummer Billy Drummond, vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Joel Frahm and accordionist Gary Versace.

Three of the tracks-“The Lamp Is Low,” based on Ravel’s “Pavane”; “My Reverie,” built from Debussy’s “Rêverie”; and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” from Borodin’s “String Quartet in D”-will be instantly recognizable, though Souter’s slow, sensual readings are stunningly original. A fourth is based on another Borodin composition, his “Polovetsian Dances,” transformed more than a half-century ago into “Stranger in Paradise,” but here reimagined by Souter as the more intimately romantic “Dance With Me.”

The eight remaining tracks embrace source material both familiar (Beethoven’s “Seventh Symphony,” Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3”) and comparatively obscure (Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor,” Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane” and his “Elegy”), all refitted with splendidly crafted Souter lyrics. In the liner notes, Souter says that the majority of the arrangements “emerged spontaneously in the studio.” Such alchemic dexterity is a rare pleasure.

Originally Published