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All About Jazz

Sophisticated pianist Eric Olsen explores the western classical canon from a jazzman's perspective on the charming and delightful Sea Changes. The several selections on the disc span the range from Georges Bizet's "Carmen" to Olivier Messiaen and Jean Sibelius' modernistic compositions.

Olsen's charismatic and unique interpretations mark the album with his signature elegance and forms a common thread through it. From the hard boppish rendition of the traditional Irish hymn °Be Now My Vision" to the vibrant performance of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" the quartet deftly fuses intricate harmonies with crackling spontaneity.

On the latter track both Olsen and bassist Ratzo B. Harris switch to electric instruments adding funky embellishments to the iconic melody. Saxophonist Don Braden lets loose a fiery flood of notes while drummer Tim Horner brings a rock and roll sensibility with his thundering beats. Both reflect the frenetic and riotous conclusion of the original. Meanwhile on the former Braden's resonant, breathy tenor channels the raw spirituality of the ancient sacred song. Olsen adds a deep soulfulness with his swaggering piano groove and his intelligent and emotive improvisation.

The reading of Messiaen's "Immortality" is deeply melancholic with Braden weaving within the wistful ambience brightly hued lilting lines that shimmer with warm vitality. His soprano's clear tones soar in a complex and tender extemporization over the band's exciting, mellifluous refrains. Olsen takes center stage with his crystalline cascade of notes that is exquisitely evocative. Harris' contrabass solo brims with graceful lyricism is laced with poetic phrases.

The only pop tune, guitarist George Harrison's "Something," opens with an energetic and expansive group play. Braden's acerbic soprano states the familiar theme over the percolating rhythm flourishes. Olsen's tight and crisp adlib pianism is filled with clever twists and turns while Braden's exuberance hints at saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechetand the early days of jazz. 

Olsen is not the first to meld these two great traditions but he does it with his singular sound and refined style. By getting to the core of each work and reconstructing it from a fresh and refreshing perspective he pays homage to the universality of the musical language.

 

JazzTimes

"Sea Changes" by Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet

Buccaneers on a Classical Ocean

Eric Olsen has made a name for himself as a pianist and organist, conductor, composer and arranger in both Jazz and Classical music. He has appeared on 17 albums as leader and accompanist.

With the Blujazz release of “Sea Changes” (BJ3433), Olsen has brought his two musical worlds together again, arranging Classical pieces (and one very special Pop song) into works of delightful Jazz. With Olsen are soprano and tenor saxophonist Don Braden, bassist Ratzo B. Harris and drummer Tim Horner. Together, this ensemble is called the Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet.

It was exciting to simply unpack the CD and flip it over to read the track list. My eyes widened as I read the list of some of my favorite pieces of all time freshly arranged for Jazz by a guy who knows how to do it. You’ll see what I mean.

The album opens with “Be Now My Vision,” an arrangement of the traditional Irish hymn “Slane.” For a band called the Eric Olsen ReVision Quartet, the title of the piece should not be treated as coincidence. In fact, the song sets the vision for the quartet as well as the listener. The opening of the piece makes you think that you have stumbled onto a John Coltrane recording.

The gorgeous intonations of Don Braden and the clean play of Eric Olsen sounds like the grand dialogues of Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. All the while, Ratzo B. Harris and Tim Horner are a perfect rhythm section, showing steady support and a lot of groove.

Gabriel Fauré’s “Elegy” is a beautiful remembrance. Originally written for cello and piano, the sax and piano arrangement is perfect for Jazz voices. Olsen and Braden are meant to be together, it would seem. Braden’s tonality and Olsen’s directness are flawlessly complementary. The piece itself is a lovely and melancholy look back. It recalls people and places once shared but now gone, filling the heart as the music fills the ears.

George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” is, of course, the aria from “Porgy and Bess.” In the opera, it is sung by the character of Serena who is grieving over the body of her murdered husband. It is one of the most heart-breaking vocal pieces ever. Olsen has arranged it wonderfully for piano and sax. Harris’ bass is mournful alongside Horner’s shuffling drums. Olsen plays wistful runs and Braden’s soulful sax calls after the beloved. It ends in despair with Olsen’s fine, light touch and a groaning bass.

One fine surprise on the album is the inclusion of the furiously-paced “Carmen’s Prelude” from the Georges Bizet opera “Carmen.” It is a beautiful melodic line that is set ablaze by the quartet. During my playing of the CD, my wife walked in and said, “Is this ‘Carmen’?” Obviously, then, the arrangement does not lose the identity of the wondrous original. This is one of those tracks that requires multiple plays just to concentrate on the individual parts.

Harris gets a great bass solo near the 5-minute mark, a beautiful thing. Who knew Bizet could swing?

From the fierce to the fragile, “Immortality” from Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” follows next. Messiaen wrote most of “Quartet for the End of Time” after being captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of France in 1940. The premiere of the piece took place in the cold and unheated confines of Barracks 27 of Stalag VIII. The German officers of the camp sat with the prisoners-of-war and—freezing together—heard the first performance of the incredible composition. “Immortality,” the final movement of the quartet, is a staggering artistic resistance to evil.

Eric Olsen has brought new life to “Immortality”—the lexical incongruity notwithstanding. The voice of piano, sax, bass and drums cry out against the relentless darkness and it is a triumphant shout of light over darkness, life over death. 
Stunning.

John Lennon told George Harrison, after the recording of “Something,” that George “may have given us the best Beatles song ever.” This is one of my favorite Beatles songs, even though I was a John Lennon guy.

Olsen arranges Harrison’s original into a Jazz beauty. Braden’s work on the soprano sax is soaring and full of life. Harris’ bass solo keeps the chords and offers his unique voice to it. Through it all, Olsen holds the line in this splendid tip of the hat to “the quiet Beatle.” Not so quiet when these guys are finished with him.

I have never been able to get enough of Jean Sibelius. Eric Olsen makes doubly certain of that with his arrangement of “Finlandia.” The vision of Olsen’s opening chords is expanded with Braden’s picturesque sax. Good God. This is gorgeous. The wash of Tim Horner’s brush and cymbals is like fine mist whispering across a springtime meadow. The warm stroll of piano and bass with the occasional skip of the drum is like a couple’s walk together. It was originally a protest piece against the censorship of the Russian Empire in 1899. It is indeed a love song, a love for home.

It is one of my favorite pieces of music and Eric Olsen has not only done no violence to the Sibelius original, but a great service to the non-Classical listener by reintroducing the gorgeous themes of the Classical music world.

Frederic Chopin’s “Waltz in C# Minor” is another fine example of just that. Harris and Horner swing behind Olsen’s piano. 
Oscar Peterson’s father once told him that Jazz is fine “but learn Chopin because he will be your musical vocabulary for anything you want to say on the piano.”

Eric Olsen has taken that Classical vocabulary and written a sweet Jazz poem with it.

From the first time I heard Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” at the age of 10, I have always been hooked by “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Rick Wakeman used it as the finale for his 1974 album, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth,” and the four cellists “Apocalyptica” closed their concerts with it “in case some of you thought you were coming to a Classical music concert.” Eric Olsen uses it as the final track for “Sea Changes.” It does not disappoint.

With Olsen on the Nord Piano 2, Braden runs the melody on tenor sax. Harris and Horner create a fun bit of funk for the background. The layering of the voices is like looking at the geological strata on a mountainside.

There is menace and courage, wit and wisdom, light and dark all in tight interaction. This is riotous good fun.

“Sea Changes” is a stunning rainbow bridge between the worlds of Classical and Jazz. Eric Olsen’s ReVision Quartet has managed the crossover with dedication and devotion to both the originals and the new arrangements. Equally at home in both realms, Olsen has caused the listener to delight in the Jazz expression of Classical majesty.

~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl

Downbeat

An elegant stylist with a gifted ear for texture and tension, veteran pianist Eric Olsen has recorded 17 musically diverse albums, with artists ranging from saxophonist George Garzone to opera singer Kevin Maynor. His previous album, Dyad Plays Puccini, examined masterworks by the Italian composer through a jazz lens, and Sea Changes (Blujazz 3433; 59:34 HHH1/2), his cerebral new project, is built on a similar framework. The nine-piece program is an eclectic mix of jazz standards (Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now”), pop mainstays (The Beatles’ “Something”) and classics of the Western canon (Bizet’s “Carmen Prelude”), all of which have been gilded with a bright improvisational luster. He’s joined in this effort by saxophonist Don Braden, bassist Ratzo B. Harris, and drummer Tim Horner.

Jersey Jazz

Successfully adapting classical music themes to a jazz context requires knowledge of both musical fields.  Pianist Eric Olsen is one musician who has effectively bridged this gap.  He has performed to acclaim in both fields, and one hearing of Sea Changes (Bluejazz – 3433) will easily convince you that he has mastered this transition.  The nine selections on this album are mostly from classical sources, but he has also address a traditional Irish hymn, “Be Now, My Vision;” a song from the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess, “My Man’s Gone Now;” and a Beatles tune, “Something.” Olsen is aided on the session by Don Braden on tenor and soprano saxophones, Ratzo B. Harris on bass and Tim Horner on drums.  Among the classical composers addressed on Sea Changes are Fauré, Bizet, Messiaen, Sibelius, Chopin and Grieg. Olsen’s creative arrangements give new life to music that seems to enjoy being taken on different rides, from contemplative, Fauré‘s Elegy, to frenetic, Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.  Olsen has created his own form of classic jazz.  

Jazz Weekly

Pianist Eric Olsen works on creating a new songbook with Don Braden, Ratzo B. Harris, and Tim Horner, on this latest release of his. He puts new wineskins on material ranging from the church to the concert hall here, and it works amazingly well.

I took a couple of listens before I realized that “Be Thou My Vision” was the song I heard in the pews, as the rhythm team creates a modal mood for Braden’s tenor, while his soprano sears over a 6/8 groove on George Harrison’s “Something.” Horner hits the skins like a castenet on “Carmen Prelude” and Harris’ bass daintily dances with Olsen on a trio read of Chopin’s “Waltz in C# Minor,” glowing like midnight stars. Olsen’s keyboard work drives the team on a charging “In The Hall of The Mountain King.” This is a rare instance of a great idea getting the treatment it deserves.  Anyone who can bring together music from Baby Boomers, the 19th Century and the Trinity Hymnal must be doing something right. Bravo!

Jazz Journal

Review of Larry Newcomb's CD Live Intentionally, featuring Eric Olsen:

The music only comes to the boil through the resourceful, imaginative piano of Eric Olsen- who speaks the modern jazz language with fluency and assuredness, although he may be better-known as a symphonic performer, a featured soloist on the orchestral stage and as enthusiastic swimmer in the “third stream”, bringing the jazz and classical idioms into fusion.  Here, though, his jazz credentials are dazzlingly on show- from a spacious meandering on Carla Bley’s beautifully relaxed bossa tune Olhos De Gato (cat’s eyes) to a stunning, full-on charge in Parker’s Au Privave. 

A fine and melodious session with exceptional piano.

 

All About Jazz

Review of Eric Olsen's CD Sea Changes

Many classical-jazz crossover projects come off as half-baked exercises in compromise, uncomfortable in the attempt of marriage and painful to observe. This one doesn't. Pianist Eric Olsen put together a first-rate foursome—the aptly-named ReVision Quartet—to perform revamped takes on the music of Jean Sibelius, Frederic Chopin, Georges Bizet, and Olivier Messiaen, among others. His artful arrangements take note of the source material without simply recycling it, his band mates do a fine job of navigating their way through these pieces, and everything sounds natural as can be. If only every jazz-meets-classical project could work so well. 

The album opens with "Be Now My Vision," based on the Irish hymn "Slane." It's a brooding yet polished swinger in five that grooves in all the right ways. Don Braden's tenor is tough without being aggressive, Olsen moves from strong-handed comping to more measured places, and the rhythm team of bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tim Horner does a fine job fanning the flames of intensity without ever going overboard. A sensitive, Brazilian-laced take on Gabriel Faure's "Elegy" follows. Braden's gentler side shines through while the band glides along in mournful-cum-hopeful fashion. 

As the journey continues, the listener is treated to a gentle "My Man's Gone Now," questionably tied to the album theme because of its opera-based origins. Then there's a fusion-fashioned take on "Carmen Prelude," a light touch trip through Messiaen's "Immortality" that features a notable solo from Harris, and a big head-scratcher—George Harrison's "Something." That last number doesn't really fit with the classically-inspired mandate, but better not to nit pick on that point. It works wonderfully as a bright-eyed swing waltz, sitting comfortably within the mix. The final third of the album includes a calmly coasting "Finlandia" that puts Braden and Olsen in the spotlight, an upbeat Chopin waltz, and a funky and raunchy, plugged-in take on "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" in seven. 

In creating this project, Olsen proves to be an expert in the art of musical transfiguration. The familiar is truly born anew in the hands of the ReVision Quartet on Sea Changes.

JazzTimes

Travis Rogers gave Sea Changes the honor of Best Jazz Arrangements for 2015! His wonderful complete review may be found below.

Midwest Record

ERIC OLSEN Revision Quartet/ Sea Changes: When you say that Olsen has played everything with everybody, it's not an exaggeration. One of those ambidextrous guys that plays jazz and classical with mainstreamers and hell raisers alike, Olsen mixes Grieg with George Harrison and brings in Don Braden and other luminaries to help fill out the sound. Opening up with a positively urban inspired jazz romp on a p.d. track, the creativity flows in mighty fashion from there. A delightfully ear opening set that isn't exactly made for a jazz club on Mars but will certainly take you places you don't/didn't expect, this piano man will tickle more than the ivories if your senses are all working. Killer stuff from a Grammy nominated cat that needs to get out more---so we can see him live. Well done. 

JazzTimes

Review of Eric Olsen's CD Dyad Plays Puccini

“An enthralling CD, eloquent and passionate improvisations on artful arrangements” 

CriticalJazz.com

Review of Eric Olsen's CD Dyad Plays Puccini

“Perhaps the most amazing transformation of cultural enlightenment in the last quarter century.”

Classical Candor

Review of Eric Olsen's CD Dyad Plays Puccini:

“An enjoyable album filled with grace and poise, that kept me fascinated for its duration.”  

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