Reflections of D
2023 / Michael Arbenz
Review by Kathy Parsons
Reflections of D is Michael Arbenz's solo piano tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington (1899-1974). The seven tracks are re-imaginings of some of Ellington's standout works, with Arbenz interpreting and improvising on the pieces via his own musical sensibilities and experience. On some of the tracks, Arbenz has updated the music with overdub techniques and electronic effects, giving the music a fresh, contemporary sound. It is also interesting to note that Arbenz closes the album with Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom," the piece Ellington usually closed his concerts with, honoring that tradition with a tip of his hat to the master.
Although this is Michael Arbenz's first solo album, the Swiss-born pianist/composer is perhaps best-known for his work with the Swiss trio, VEIN, which includes his percussionist twin brother, Florian. Well-versed in both classical music and jazz, Arbenz holds a degree in classical piano and has performed extensively in that genre as well as composing and performing as a jazz artist.
Reflections of D begins with "Take the A Train," the signature piece of the Duke Ellington orchestra. Arbenz's lightning-fast fingers dazzle as they do an energetic dance all over the piano keyboard. Snippets of the well-known melody weave in and out, delighting the ears with their familiarity. (This track has been released as a single ahead of the release of the full album.) "African Flower" was also recently released as a single and is my favorite track of the seven. Ellington originally named the piece "La Plus Belle Africaine" when he composed it for the Negro Arts Festival in Dakar. Also known as "La Fleurette Africane" and "Little African Flower," Ellington's first recording of it was in 1962. Arbenz's version is almost ambient in its grace and simplicity. "In My Solitude" begins very quietly and introspectively, gradually becoming more complex both emotionally and musically. Ellington first recorded the song in 1934, and it has been been recorded often and by a wide variety of artists, including Billie Holiday. Arbenz's version is fluid and improvisatory, often dazzling with those magic fingers of his! "Reflections in D" is another favorite with its elegant melody line and dreamy, introspective nature - beautifully done! "It Don't Mean A Thing" was originally recorded in 1932 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. Also known by its full title, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," Arbenz's arrangement is free-flowing with an easy swing and a driving beat that will have your toes tapping in no time! Arbenz's version of "Lotus Blossom" is a deeply contemplative and soulful look within that's also a favorite. Expressive and very free, it feels spontaneous and from the heart - almost conversational. A beautiful ending to an exceptional album!
Reflections of D is available from Amazon, Apple/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify. Check it out!
February 19, 2023