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Fauré into jazz
by Leslie Kandell for Vocal Area Network
Posted October 4, 2005

Daniel Neer and Claudia HommelIf by chance Daniel Neer had not perceived unexpected forks in his church-singer's yellow brick road, he's found out about them now, as his church/synagogue service schedule gets worked around his new club act and recording called The Jazz Fauré Project. And in truth, nearly everyone would be brought up short by that title--till they've heard "Les Roses d'Ispahan" recreated as a bossa nova duet with jazz piano combo. Or "Mandoline" reinvented as a beguine, to be contemplated while dancing around the room. But as Daniel describes the concerts to be performed October 13 at The Triad, and October 16 at the Detour Jazz Club, "The arrangement is where the difference is."

The Jazz Fauré Project, still in process, consists of songs arranged (note for note) for two vocalists (Daniel and the Chicago-based cabaret singer Claudia Hommel) plus bass, winds, drums and piano, arranged by Dennis Luxion, the francophile who was a pianist for the late jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. 

So far they have morphed 17 songs into pop and jazz modes, to be rotated so any 10 can be sung at any concert. The long-range goal is to arrange more Fauré, as well as songs by other French Impressionists including Duparc, Debussy, Hahn, Chausson, Poulenc and Messiaen.

Fauré had no taste for theatrical effects. Even the Requiem is a modest expression of human grief--certainly compared to the operatic fireworks of Verdi from the same period. More elusive in style than Debussy or Ravel, Fauré was not drawn to the virtuosity that belongs in concertos--which he never wrote.

A happily (if not faithfully) married organist and choirmaster, Fauré was surprisingly less religious than secretly romantic. His gift was for luminous, lyrical melody, and harmonies that slide in a sea of color, rocking gently in his singular, expanded use of three-quarter time.

While Daniel was in the cast of the 2002 Broadway production of La Bohème, he recalls hearing the innovative director Baz Luhrmann observe, "The star of the show is the concept of the show." Holding that thought, Daniel brought it back onto his front burner when he and Claudia met as cast members of Christopher Berg's opera, Cymbaline. Their small roles allowed a lot of time for backstage chats, and discovering that they both love French song, they decided to collaborate in some form. 

Claudia, who was raised in Paris, sent Daniel her CD, Romance Language, and when Daniel heard her bossa nova version of "Lydia," he "came up with this idea to extend it into a whole program of Gabriel Fauré tunes." Claudia had met Dennis Luxion in Chicago, Daniel had read Chet Baker's biography, and things began to percolate.

The charts often use the voice as an instrument like the sax or bass. Sometimes the tune is speeded up, or Daniel sings the treble line in the bass range, and sometimes the piano's right hand is his voice, while the left is played by the string bass and Claudia sings the vocal line. 

It comes out pleasant, imaginative and--appropriately--understated, because in the words of the legendary composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, "Understatement is a prerequisite of French art."

The group has appeared in the Chicago area, and plans a Paris concert in the spring of 2006.

The New York premiere of the Jazz Fauré Project (Daniel Neer and Claudia Hommel, vocals, Dennis Luxion, arranger and pianist, Jim Cox, bass, Tim McNamara, winds and Phil Gratteau, drums): Thursday, October 13 at The Triad, 158 West 72nd Street at 7:00 PM (admission $15, 2-drink minimum, www.triadnyc.com or 212-362-2511), and Sunday, October 16 at Detour Jazz Club, 349 East 13th Street, from 9:00 PM on (2-drink minimum, www.jazzatdetour.com). For more about the Jazz Fauré Project, visit www.jazzfaure.com.

Leslie Kandell is an arts journalist.

Content Contact: Leslie Kandell.
Revision Date: October 6, 2005.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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