‘Dick Wag - a Tribute to Richard Wagner’ is a new trio dedicated to the notorious German composer, nowadays despised and idolised in equal measure. Here we have a composer whom it is difficult to consider in a compromising manner. Bringing music written on a monumental scale to the intimacy of a trio, comprised of the most unlikely collaborators.
This ‘tribute band’ attempts to reconcile itself to opera’s most depraved, politically divisive and love-hated little man by proving its irreconcilability.
The huge dramatic scenes boiled down to discreet miniatures, each expressed on a single piece of paper and treated like found objects as a jazz musician might. The resulting improvisations teeter surreally between the playful lyricism of swing and the abstraction of modernist prepared piano grooves. Sonically there are reminiscences of the great chamber jazz trio of Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas has masterminded these respectfully profane interpretations of Wagner’s sublime, bombastic, time-stopping, sexually suggestive and earth-shatteringly beautiful creations by assembling a seemingly dysfunctional trio of motley talents.
Parisian prepared-piano legend Benoît Delbecq’s child-like and profoundly vocal outbursts miraculously synthesise with Ewan Bleach’s unparalleled sense of melody and tone, glued together by Fred Thomas’ foundational bass playing.
These three musicians have the capability to play tricks with the music.
The fearless musical mastermind is Fred Thomas. He already has an incredible breadth of experience. Two of his most recent albums were of Bach keyboard suites for piano, rearranging the order to give the chance to appreciate even more one of music’s geniuses; and playing bass in a quartet with Martin Speake and pianist Ethan Iverson (of Bad Plus fame). His diverse series of online concerts from Sands Studios is being broadcast live in July and August 2020, while he adds colour and imagination to the forthcoming ECM album by Elina Duni and guitarist Rob Luft.
Benoît Delbecq is equally at home with the likes of Evan Parker, in purer jazz environments or performing the music of Morton Feldman. Ewan Bleach is a master of swing clarinet and klezmer but also experienced in Mediterranean music styles.
To leap into the music of Wagner is therefore unsurprising for such musicians. They realise the incredible legacy that he has provided. But with views and support (especially from Hitler) which have, for many, led him to be isolated. He creates a justifiable queasiness but also a certain euphoria. Nevertheless the music can be disassociated from the vitriolic antisemitism of articles he wrote and his backers over so many years.
Deadly serious and and deadly silly, ’Dick Wag’ serves up chunks hacked off masterpieces such as Tristan and Isolde, transforming them into grotesque parodies of Teutonic pomp, Greek shepherd laments, luscious jazz ballads, jingoistic marches and Ellingtonian jungle grooves. And if you listen closely, just audible between the cracks of these affectionate caricatures, is the unmistakable sound of Richard Wagner turning and squirming in his grave.
1. The Night Watchman’s Song (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg) 5.35
2. Wedding Death March (Lohengrin) 5.40
3. Prelude (Parsifal) 6.41
4. Fafner the Giant (Siegfried) 1.41
5. The Shepherd’s Lament (Tristan und Isolde) 6.07
6. New Age Bells (Parsifal) 1.51
7. Pilgrim’s Chorus (Tannhäuser) 4.00
8. Tristan’s Pain (Tristan und Isolde) 6.37
9. Lausch - Listen (Tristan und Isolde) 3.56
10. Return of the Giant (Siegfried) 0.54
11. Over the Mountain (Siegfried) 4.18
12. Bells End (Parsifal) 1.33
Fred Thomas - double bass and arrangements
Ewan Bleach - reeds
Benoit Delbecq - (prepared) piano
Recorded at Alice’s Loft, London, December 2017 Engineered and mixed by Alex Bonney
Mastered by Peter Beckmann
Artwork by Peter Beatty
All compositions by Richard Wagner Produced by Fred Thomas www.fred-thomas.co.uk
released September 15, 2020