Dan Dean

Songs Without Words

classical 33021

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Chris Lunn, Ancient Victorys

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This is an unusual and special project. Dan Dean is known for his own groups, recording and mixing, and his collaborations with Tom Collier. I first encountered his works with a couple of different groups at the Other Side of the Tracks in the mid 70s along with his work with Collier, with whom he has been musical buddies even in their teenage years. His bass work and sound is found in many recording groups and engineers, because of Dean's musicality and knowing how to record and work his sound.

I am not a classical music critic by a long shot, but this is a little different. Dean uses just his own voice, bass, and whistle on this recording. Though he is not known as a vocalist, he has a long history of singing in his family, with his mother a country-western performer who played guitar wit Bonnie Guitar. Dean has backed singers like BB King, Ernestine Anderson, Peggy Lee, Dionne Warwick, Brothers Four, Della Reese and Diane Schuur, among others, but those were as a happy backup bass player. Now Dean moves his voice out front, using all his vast recording equipment and multi-track knowledge on these classical pieces, most of which you and I are familiar with.

Opening is Bach's "Air on a G String Suite # 3 in D Major" that has multi-tracked voices; gorgeous, warm, a simple choral building, extensions, just a touch of bass. You keep thinking there is singing as you hum along or pick out vocal parts, much as you might with a top choir. All these works have multi-tracked Dean vocals without words.

"Flight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakoff is a piece that many of you who took piano lessons used to marvel at and say "I want to do that some day." Think I first heard it on a 78rpm by Freddie Slack from my mother's collection of jazz and classical. And it will capture you here in the high-speed vocal sounds flying at you from every angle and drilling into your core. Tight, pure fun with no place to breathe as you listen. Fun, superb arrangement and unbelievable technical talent combine to allow the speed to work and not get blurred. Always challenging, and you say how is that possible?

Next is the three movements from Vivaldi, "Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D Major." Movement 1, Allegro, has voices building the melody and counterpoint vocal lines, working with the volume and punch and bringing in his amplified bass line to anchor places. He is able to clearly develop the complexity, the volume, the intensity of the song. Love the dancing bass taking the lead and the voices then moving in. He develops that further in the melody, the trade, releasing and then building and snapping the bass or the voices home all in a superb and difficult achievement. "Movement 2, Largo," the loping bass opens with voices just touching and hinting the harmonies, letting the bass take the solo. Dean walks, touches the lines. He finds the holds to move the bass into a more direct contact with the vocal lines. Think of this as a glorious bass work with a clean clear movement that will keep you glued to this gorgeous piece. "Movement 3, Allegro," is a short finish wit pulsing, probing vocal lines and then quick bass response working with each other just the way the lines are in the original but you have it here in bass and vocal call and response lines.

Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" is an eleven-minute exploration of this classic. He begins with vocal sound opening with a rhythmic pulse similar to the "Bumble Bee" and with the dizzy push and then open raspy vocal sounds, followed by almost Elmer Bernstein-sounding arrangements. Tight little vocal note shots with a rhythmic core and cementing. It is clean and exhilarating. You will be taken back to greet this very unusual piece within a new framework. Dean's ability to create the volume, complexity, and timing is genius at work. You get an undertone of bass to bring the voices to the front, bowed bass to feel the high voices, pulsing the mid vocal. The texture is always moving, interpreting the song in this new genre. The quiet bass work in the last quarter of the piece is perfect with light vocal ending.

Bach's "The Sheep May Safely Graze" has bass that opens and could be either bass or voice or both, and then the vocal melody line moves in loving choir-like vocals, taking you into the cathedral, never overbearing, loving, flowing and building. Dean draws you into the heart of the choir mode. A loving beauty building with ebb and flow.

Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor" closes the collection, and I am the least familiar with this. The bowed bass and mid low voices bring again a choir-like beauty to the flowing lines, all elegant soothing and full. The few high vocals flowing back to mid range work very well. Later, the bowed bass and elegant exquisite quiet clarity works very well. The vocal lines develop in a full, clean, perfectly executed time signature and with such definition. bowed bass and vocal touches close.

Engaging, phenomenal work, which I hope finds a lot of listeners across many genres. This is groundbreaking work by both a musical and recording master. Kudos to Origin for taking on this project. It is a major highlight of their releases.

Packaging is in a jewel box, not my favorite these days; they break in shipping and shelf holders. Mine did. But the six-panel booklet is well done with original art work on the cover. An explanation of the how, why, and the complexity of this project, and of the family history that led to this work are included. Picture is excellent, and the titles and times are on the cover along with contact info; same for a back page insert. Just the titles and contact are on the CD. Binding has clear info for shelf retrieval; John Bishop did the cover design. Wow!






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