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Don Thompson | Rob Piltch: Bells…Now and Then

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Don Thompson | Rob Piltch: Bells...Tnen and Now
Pianist, contrabassist and vibraphonist Don Thompson and guitarist Rob Piltch

Two qualities of Don Thompson that one finds irresistible is that he is musicianly to the core, quietly and unmistakably commanding your attention at every level, every time he plays, no matter what instrument he is playing. And then there is the fact that his music – no matter who he is playing with – is always life-affirming. You could say this about any of the numerous recordings that he has made over the years. He connects at a very deep level with performers who are in the same studio as he is, or on stage with him. A case in point is this recording Bells…Now and Then that he has made with guitarist Rob Piltch.

The Now…and Then of the title refers to the fact that this is a recording that both musicians have revisited 42 years after they recorded nine of the charts in Mr Thompson’s basement studio in Toronto. ‘Now’ because two charts have been added to the original recording: Circles, a song written and first recorded by Mr Thompson with the guitarist Jim Hall on Circles [Concord, 1981] and Days Gone By – also written by Mr Thompson – was recorded by pianist George Shearing on How Beautiful is Night [Telarc, 1992].

The cover of the album Bells…Then and Now

Three movements from Suite, the longest work on the Bells…Now and Then, are by Mr Piltch. These movements are Moon Dance, Nexus and Chant. Everything else – except the traditional Japanese Red Dragonfly – is by Mr Thompson. Taken together this repertoire feels thrillingly new and unfamiliar, played with outsize virtuosity by both Mr Thompson and Mr Piltch. Perhaps playing in the quietude of each other’s glow gives truth to Goethe’s belief that “it is when working within limits that mastery reveals itself.” The limits in this case are nothing else but the duo setting, where everything is introspection, caught and held with the greatest affection and finesse.

It certainly feels that way right from the lithe angularity and dreaminess of the opening chords and notes played by Mr Piltch to introduce Circles. Mr Thompson enters not long after with ripples of notes played on the piano, while the guitarist retreats to unlock the harmonics of the work. You know, at once, that you are about to be taken into another world. It is world seemingly made of Chopinesque miniatures, each of which is veiled in the mystery and bathed in the inward beauty of the crystalline music. The intensity of the music is such that even the sound of your own breath seems like an unwelcome and paradoxical intrusion.

This is, however, not the intention of the musicians at all. They let you into their world with unbridled joy, Mr Thompson’s pianism [his playing on the contrabass and the vibraphone as well] is mesmeric, his liquid arpeggios are often snapped off, heavily sustained, come at you in wave after wave, achieving both the lyrical and heroic elements of each piece. Both musicians display empathetic ingenuity in the vivamente elaboration that begins on Stratford Stomp and continues throughout the rest of the repertoire beginning with Bells; then especially through the five movements of Suite.

Throughout the course of the music, you become privy to fluency and finesse to a rare degree. Mr Thompson’s nonchalant, fine-spun brilliance captures the song Kyoto on his contrabass lending an air of diablerie while Mr Piltch works the curves of the music’s sculpted grace. This is a perfect entrée into the glimmering to-and-fro between the musicians on Moon Dance and continues into Red Dragonfly – the most noble, shapely, and enigmatic movement of Suite. For Mr Thompson as well as for Mr Piltch this has to be a benchmark – the proverbial disc in a million whose time has surely come again for a new generation of listeners to devour.

Music – 1: Circles; 2: Caribe; 3: September; 4: Stratford Stomp; 5: Bells; 6: Suite – i Kyoto; ii Moon Dance; iii Red Dragon Fly; iv Nexus; v Chant; 7: Days Gone By

Musicians – Don Thompson: piano, bass and vibraphone; Rob Piltch: guitars

Released – 2024/1982
Label – Modica Music/Umbrella
Runtime – 52:36

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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