Richard Galliano and Thierry Escaich ‘Aria’ (Milan) 4/5

As much of a classical as a jazz release, this album pairs together a Swiss-French classical church organist, Thierry Escaich, with ace accordion player, Richard Galliano. It is, moreover, recorded in the unlikely setting of the French church of Bern in Switzerland on a church organ of which the origins go all the way back to 1726. Those expecting a jazz trio to accompany Galliano will be in for an unexpected surprise here, The tone is far more reverential and downbeat, though highly entertaining for all that and a totally new setting in which to hear the virtuoso instrumentalist. A refined and relaxed reading of the, ‘Adagio’, composed by Galliano starts off proceedings and the repertoire is surprisingly varied and refreshing too.

Where the classical and improvisational aspects come together in wonderful harmony is on, ‘La follia’, a well known early music piece that has been performed at a significantly faster pace by the likes of Jordi Savall, but here is treated to a more minimalist and, ultimately, significantly slower tempo, and yet it works a treat. The piece begins in classical mode, then suddenly is transformed into an improvised passage, before returning back into a more sedate number. Elsewhere, the J.S. Bach composition, ‘Sicilian’, is beautifully stated by Gallian, while a fitting tribute to the departed Claude Nougaro is the pretext for, ‘Tango pour Claude’, and Galliano’s mentor and major inspiration, Astor Piazzolla, is paid homage to on, ‘Tanti anni prima’.

The bi-lingual inner sleeve notes are worthy of comment. In particular, the opening paragraph translated into English is worthy of a separate prize for the most inventive use of language to promote an unusual pairing of musicians such as Escaich and Galliano. It begins thus: ‘Once upon a time the accordion-frog met the organ-cow!’ Only a French native speaker with a florid use of his/her native language and a deep sense of creative thinking could start off with a liner note in that frame of mind. Chapeau, monsieur! Hats off, Sir!

Tim Stenhouse