Lang Lang

New York Rhapsody

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This Sony Classical release presents superstar pianist Lang Lang in a new role: that of pop accompanist. The album consists of a set of songs about New York (thankfully, "New York, New York" is omitted), featuring not only likely pop suspects like Madeleine Peyroux, but such novelties as alt-country songwriter Jason Isbell in a creditable reading of New York Morning. Perhaps the most unlikely item is Lou Reed's Dirty Blvd., mashed with Somewhere (from West Side Story) and sung by Jeffrey Wright and Lisa Fischer, respectively. It may all make you ask exactly why this needed to be done, and the answer would be that the whole thing is suited to the kind of high-ticket concert evening where money is made in classical music these days. The producer is none other than Larry Klein, ex-husband to Joni Mitchell, and he and arranger Vince Mendoza craft textures that weave everything together reasonably well. Better still is the main attraction, which makes this worth the price of admission: the Gershwin two-piano version of Rhapsody in Blue here actually manages to add something to the voluminous recorded literature of that work. The second piano is played by Herbie Hancock, 76 years old when the album appeared in 2016 and still in fine form. He adds some jazz to his part, in a way that Gershwin would have enjoyed (it's not too far from what Gershwin does in his own Songbook version), and in this selection the two players do come alive in the interplay. If the stars here attract you, by all means proceed, and aficionados of Rhapsody in Blue will find something fresh here.

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