April 2009

Philippe Khoubesserian - Jazz At The Old Almonte Hall
Vanorange Records VO 08014
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

It is a rare jazz release these days that features all standards. However, French pianist Philippe Khoubesserian, accompanied by bassist John Geggie and drummer Nick Fraser, felt the need to do this despite the appearance of repetitiveness. Khoubesserian plays these old tunes with a sense of feeling not heard much in the work of the young guns of today. Whether playing solo or with his mates, he weaves uniqueness into each of these songs, mainly by his use of surprising chord choices. Geggie and Fraser provide the perfect accompaniment, each staying in the background and not trying to muscle Khoubesserian out of the spotlight. For an example of how well they play off with each other, listen to their version of "Misty." Yes, it’s been played to death, but there is longing and utter emotional nakedness in Khoubesserian's playing. You’ll be happy he played "Misty" again.

Recorded in what I assume to be analog and mastered at 192kHz before being downmixed to the Red Book CD standard, the music sounds very nice. The piano is center front with the bass left and drums right, both set well behind the piano. The piano is given a full-sized presentation -- not squeezed into a certain space -- and clearly reproduced. The bass is deep and full, and the drums snap, crackle and pop. The sense of three musicians performing in real space is almost palpable.

One more point that may sway you to give this disc a listen: Khoubesserian's mother was given the drug Thalidomide during pregnancy. The result was severe deformity to both of his arms. Not that you’d ever have guessed listening to him play, but it does give this disc a bit more human interest. Music has always been his life, and this album demonstrates that no matter the odds, if one has grit, determination and talent, anything is possible.