Austrian pianist Friedrich Gulda stirred up quite a bit of controversy with his excursions into jazz in the 1960s, sometimes programming both classical and jazz selections on the same concert. Although plenty of Gulda's performances of Mozart and other composers are still available, his jazz experiments are heard less often these days. Perhaps this is because creators from both the classical and jazz spheres have made deeper efforts to fuse these two forms of art music; Gulda was essentially a musician who was competent in both genres, not an adherent of what was coming to be called the Third Stream. In any event, classical listeners curious as to what Gulda's jazz performances sounded like can get a sample from these two live performances, recorded in 1966 and 1967 and reissued here with a minimal presentation on the Austrian collector label Preiser. The liner notes, apparently taken from an old program note by Gulda, are in German only and are very short. Gulda and his Eurojazz-Orchester perform two pieces, the Eurosuite by trombonist J.J. Johnson and Gulda's own Variations for Two Pianos and Band. The Variations, whose band sections are rather sparse, showcase perhaps the best aspect of Gulda's playing: its considerable virtuosity. He had a quick, quirky way of ornamenting a melodic line, and the slow central section of the performance (which is not really a classical set of variations but a long jazz improvisation of the usual kind) is quite distinctive. For jazz fans, the main interest here may be the presence of the young Joe Zawinul, later leader of the innovative fusion group Weather Report, on the second keyboard. There is nothing about Gulda's music that was in any way groundbreaking, but the list of musicians who have commanded large audiences in both classical music and jazz is not long.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim