Atmosphères. Impressionist masterpieces transformed

In Atmosphères, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra explores the area of tension between the atmospheric dreamy quality of impressionist music and the forces of a large jazz orchestra, which can sound just as ecstatic and extroverted as intimate and introverted. In this production, the BJO will transform music originally written for a solo instrument or classical ensemble. Atmosphères is the product of top arrangers Bert Joris, Florian Ross and Pierre Drevet sinking their teeth into some of the period’s masterpieces by Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. Impressionism and jazz have more in common than you might imagine!

Artistic director Frank Vaganée: “Impressionist music uses the same harmonies as jazz improvisations. And rhythmically, this music has a floating feeling, an approach cultivated in jazz by shifting rhythmic accents, for example. A jazz orchestra can play with this impressionistic material very inventively, using a new free orchestration and expressive solo playing. It gives these compositions a whole new panache.”

Composer and arranger Pierre Drevet arranged the Valses nobles et sentimentales, a suite of waltzes composed in 1911 by Maurice Ravel, who along with Debussy was classical music’s most important impressionist.

Pierre Drevet: “In fact, this music has clear melodies and almost simple harmonies, like the best jazz standards: you can play them, arrange them or have them sound the way you want to, in any formation. I made the original Valses, which last 15 minutes, into an hour-long suite.” The French trumpet player Pierre Drevet has played with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra for 12 years, and is one of the orchestra’s in-house composers and arrangers.

Tombeau de Couperin: Prelude is also a work by Ravel, arranged for big band by Florian Ross (D): “Both the piano version and the orchestrated version of the Tombeau de Couperin knocked my socks off. And it only got better when I discovered that Ravel’s orchestration was so refined, simple and effective that virtually every note in the orchestral version is in the piano score! I decided to take a similar approach, and almost like an etude, I adapted it into a big band composition. I was astonished how intuitively all the notes just fell into place, and how well it worked for big band…”

Trumpet player and arranger Bert Joris arranged two of the compositions, Jeux de vagues by Debussy and Jeux de reflets et de la vitesse, based on the Gymnopédie 1 by Satie. Joris says about Jeux de vagues, “The piece as a whole has been given an essential feeling of swing, which makes the jazz musicians feel more at home. The motifs of Debussy's Jeux de Vagues, however, are all retained if with somewhat adapted phrasing. I’ve used mutes to give the whole thing a degree of lightness, and the flute and bandoneon play the lead.” With Jeux de reflets et de la vitesse, Joris was attempting to “have the well-known melody and its accompanying harmonies sporadically surface in an environment of unstoppable motion. The rhythm of the walking bass and drums carry the orchestra through the whole piece, oblivious to what’s happening around them.”

Jeux de reflets et de la vitesse - comp. Bert Joris

'Big Valses' comp. Pierre Drevet

Brussels Jazz Orchestra