Michelle LaCourse

Chocolates: Music for Viola & Piano by James Grant

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American James Grant has established a career as a composer outside the academic establishment, and the freedom that that independence has given him is amply evident in the music on this album, Chocolates. The title piece, in three movements, is subtitled "Torch Songs for Viola and Piano," and that's an adept description of the piece, as well as much of the rest of the CD. This is music with its feet planted firmly in the jazz tradition: sultry, languid, full of passion and deep feeling, but also easygoing and amiable. There's more than a little hint of a smoky cocktail lounge about most of these pieces, but for listeners open to that, there's much fun to be had. It certainly sounds like violist Michelle LaCourse and pianist Martin Amlin, both musicians with impeccable academic credentials, are having fun. There's an easy give and take between them and a nice rhythmic fluidity to the music. In the torch songs and bluesier pieces, LaCourse has an especially relaxed and earthy tone that ideally suits this material. She brings plenty of polish to the more "serious" pieces, but the raw emotion of her playing in the torch song idiom is especially compelling. The sound is clean and open, but at the same time, intimate. For fans of the viola and of jazz, it's hard to imagine it getting much better than this.

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