On Record – Group Listening: Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works, Vol. 2 (PRAH Recordings)

group-listening

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The first Group Listening album was such a success that clarinettist Stephen Black and pianist Paul Jones have returned for a second instalment. The project celebrates their favourite music – a wide range of electronica, Krautrock and dance-infused classics – by rearranging it for clarinet and piano, with a few electronic twists on the side.

In the course of their work the pair can bring new life to tracks we all thought we knew.

What’s the music like?

Rather special. Both performers play with a great deal of expression, really bringing the music to life and highlighting parts we hadn’t reckoned with before. They are clever with their arrangements, too, giving the melodic lead to the piano on occasion. Robbie Basho’s Blue Crystal Fire is one such example, where Black explores the throaty lower end of the clarinet register while Jones’ piano spins out the tune.

Much of the music is bright and positive, and the first track – a spacious arrangement of Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Sunset Village – sets the mood perfectly. The appearance of the theme to the 1970s kids tv show Camberwick Green is a humourous shock, joyfully played by both performers, before we hear a radical reworking of Laraaji’s All Of A Sudden. This is where a few risks can go a long way, in this case with the help of a one-touch keyboard rhythm effect.

The Group Listening cover of Malcolm Neon’s Y Cwsg is playful, while Hollywood Dream Trip – originally by Syrinx – is expansive. The original work Five Hundred Miles is unexpectedly poignant, eavesdropping on phone conversations and messages while the instruments work softly voiced conversations of their own. The steady ticking of Seeland has a similar, meditative effect.

Does it all work?

It does – like looking at familiar pictures from unexpected angles and discovering more about them. What really comes across is the love these two musicians have for the music they have arranged and played.

Is it recommended?

Yes. This set of selected works is a blend of cover and remix, throwing new light on music that is revealed to have more dimensions with every listen. A subtly joyous experience.

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