4 1/2 STARS
Bassist Dan Dean's original plan for this project was the hiring of sixteen string players to join him in the studio to record a set for solo bass with string orchestra: Vivaldi's Concerto For Lute and Orchestra in D Major, along with music from JS Bach, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Albononi. The cost for the project proved prohibitive, but the paucity of funds turned out to be the mother of innovation. Dean tackled the project alone, adapting his arrangements to his overdubbed voice, accompanied by his bass.
Like the groundbreaking 1968 recording, Switched-On Bach (Columbia Masterworks), an audacious exploration by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos of JS Bach's music on the then-new Moog synthesizer, Dean breaks with tradition on Songs Without Words. The opener, Bach's "Air on a G String Suite No. 3 in D Major," sounds like a choir of angels, like a soundtrack to an entrance to Heaven, with sweetly layered vocals soaring over subtle bass notes. Rimsey-Korsaksoff's familiar "Flight of the Bumblebee" swarms with an insectile feverishness.
Vivaldi's "Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D Major" serves as the centerpiece of the set. With sparser vocal layering - and more pronounced bass lines - this three part, ten minute immersion in the piece is beautifully transcendent, a reverent treatment of the music with a unique approach to making it.
Thoughts that come to mind upon multiple listenings to Songs Without Words: The relative affordability of setting up a personal recording studio can have freeing effect on the artist; that's the case here. Like Switched-On Bach, nobody's tried this out before. Unlike Switched-On Bach, these are pure organic, human sounds, lovelier and more alluring than the exact but stiffer experience of the early Moog.
Dan Dean boasts a forty year career as a producer/composer/recording engineer/recording artist. It's a fine surprise to hear him—an artist capable of recording a killer version of James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)," with organist Larry Goldings, on Dean's terrific 2 5 1 (Origin Records, 2010) - involve himself in a personal and highly successful immersion into an unorthodox classical music journey.