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Private Astronomy - A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke by Geoff Muldaur's Futuristic Ensemble

Geoff Muldaur has a pretty extensive resume as regards blues, folk, rock & roll and various combinations thereof (former husband/musical partner of singer Maria Muldaur, music for the film Brazil, etc.) but let’s instead look toward his latest project, a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke. Bix was one of Jazz’s first Tragic Icons: as a cornetist, pianist and composer during the 20s hot jazz and proto-big band years, he shone most brightly but passed away in 1931 at the way-too-young age of 28. (His "In A Mist" is an oft-recorded standard.) Private Astronomy is a set of interpretations of Bix’s music and the songs that were in his repertoire. To many contemporary listeners, much of the 20s pop tune-age will sound quaint and reminiscent of old cartoon music - so what? Think of how today’s pop will sound a mere 50 years hence - but once you get past that, there’s some fine music here. Maudaur captures the spirit and tone of the tightly-wound swing of 20s hot jazz, and his arrangements where he orchestrates Bix’s solo piano pieces capture (and further) the Classical impressionistic qualities present (BB was influenced by the then-thriving French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel). There are some great vocals by Martha Wainwright (especially on "Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth The Salt of My Tears") that invoke aural visions of Mildred Bailey and even the young Billie Holiday. The only downside - and it’s a small, odd one - is that the recording quality and some of the ensemble playing is too darn pristine. Maybe I’m unconsciously comparing these takes on BB to the original recordings, but a touch more grit would’ve raised this from the level of "merely excellent" to that of "indispensable classic." But then, I’ve always been hard to please....

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Geoff Muldaur's Futuristic Ensemble
  • CD Title: Private Astronomy - A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Edge Music / Deutsche Grammophon
  • Tracks: Take Your Tomorrow (and Give Me Today); In The Dark; Davenport Blues; In A Mist; Bless You! Sister; eight others.
  • Musicians: G.M.: vocals, arrangements; Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III: vocals; Ted Nash: alto sax; Douglas Wamble: guitar; Butch Thompson: piano; Randy Sandke: trumpet; Greg Cohen: bass; Mark Gould: cornet; Dan Block, Charles Pillow: reeds; others.
  • Rating: Four Stars
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