"Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke"


You can try to re-create Bix Beiderbecke's cornet solos -- and many jazz trumpeters have tried -- but what's the point? You're never going to match the purity of Beiderbecke's tone or the joy of his phrasing. You're better off transplanting his ideas to other instruments and other contexts to see if something new might be revealed. That's just what Geoff Muldaur's Futuristic Ensemble does on "Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke."

Muldaur, best known for his reworkings of country blues, may seem an unlikely candidate for the job, but Beiderbecke's 1920s recordings were what first drew a young Muldaur into music. His original idea was to translate Beiderbecke's legendary piano compositions to a chamber ensemble -- violin, cornet, trombone, clarinet, alto sax and bass clarinet -- that could reflect a keyboard's range. Muldaur wrote these five arrangements, but he doesn't play on them, leaving that to better qualified jazz figures such as Ted Nash and Walt Weiskopf. Here is evidence that Beiderbecke was more than just a gifted soloist; his musical ideas can cast a spell in any format.

These five instrumentals are supplemented by seven vocal numbers, sung by Muldaur, his daughters Jenni and Clare Muldaur, Loudon Wainwright and his daughter Martha Wainwright. The final selection is "Clouds," one of Beiderbecke's unfinished melodic fragments. It has now been finished by Randy Sandke with new lyrics by Linda Thompson, Rufus Wainwright and the album's producer, Dick Connette. Over Butch Thompson's Randy Newmanish piano, Geoff Muldaur tenderly sings in tribute to his childhood hero, "It sounds just like a hymn to me, a symphony of clouds; I'll stay here in my cloud."

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Tuesday at Unitarian-Universalist Church of Silver Spring. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Geoff Muldaur, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)