Eugene Chadbourne

Bach: Sonata and Partita No. 1 for Violin Adapted for 5-String Banjo

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Take the title for cash. Now, add the subtitle: "German Country und Western." You're starting to get an accurate -- if difficult to believe -- picture of what this album is all about. In his liner notes, Eugene Chadbourne describes how reading Bach sheet music became a hobby to pass time and unwind in hotel rooms. The music challenged him, it seems, and his interpretations will challenge you. There are three main items about this project to address. First is the fact that the banjo is hardly a keyboard. Its range is quite limited in comparison; so is its lack of decay time (even though Bach's pieces were first performed on harpsichord). Second -- and truly the key point -- Chadbourne is not a classical player approaching the banjo, but a banjo player approaching Bach. His transcriptions adapt keyboard techniques to the banjo in a banjo way and the result is very alien-sounding. Third, since Chadbourne is a master improviser, he takes pleasure in the fact that improvisation was commonplace in Bach's era and thus extrapolates on the material. In short, if you are already seriously familiar with Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1 for Violin, you will recognize long stretches of them here. But if you aren't, you may not even be tempted to mention Bach's name while listening to the album. More traditional banjo players like to add classical pieces to their repertoires as crowd pleasers or demonstrations of virtuosity (it is also true of guitar players of the jazz and rock varieties). Chadbourne's motivation is different: honest admiration of the music. The result is all the more destabilizing.

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