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CD Review: Michael Ganian


Black Diamonds
Coming Women
Moravian Girl
Sunny Side

All compositions by Michael Ganian

total time: 30'51"
released: 1999
review date: October 1999

label: Michael Ganian MNG2040
Ulrychova 41
624 00 Brno
Czech Republic

Review by Thomas Fabinski:

I dare say Michael Ganian is the master of the French jazz waltz. He's got the genre nailed. He plays with a tight rhythm accompaniment of drums and bass. The recording quality is nicely done with a healthy dose of reverb, echo and stereo separation. Michael uses variety in register selection and combines musette with dry tunings to keep your attention.

But some things strike me odd about this recording. Unfolding the liner notes reveals a 9 1/2" by 14" twice life-size photo of one half of Michael's face! What's that all about? On the other side Michael gives us the accordion score to the track, Touch along with a credit for Vitezslav Vavrda (drums) and Rudolf Smahel (bass). Do these same musicians accompany Michael on the other tracks? If they do, you wouldn't know it from the liner notes. (By the way, I counted the words "Michael Ganian" 58 different times on the CD, liner notes and jewel case.) And therein, I believe, lies the problem with this recording. Michael needs to share the musical spotlight with his accompaniment. His instrument is always front and center. And while he's good, there's no respite from him.

The musical essence of these tracks repeat themselves throughout this recording. And of the 12 selections, 4 of them can be found on his other 3 recordings. Or put another way, 10 minutes of this 30 minute recording is old material. And 3 of the 4 repeated tracks date from 1994. And why only 30 minutes and 51 seconds? I've got LPs with more material on them. The title track, Touch almost sounds like an inverted or backwards melody. It is the most unusual track but also the one that misses the most by veering so far, so unpredictably from the tried and true Ganian formula.

So, the first way out of this musical conundrum in which I find Ganian (as opposed to one in which he finds himself) in on this CD is for him to play off his fellow musicians. Let them take a solo once in a while. Throw the sidemen a bone. Listen to Van Damme and Galliano riffing off their guys.

Another way out is to break loose from that overly sweet, but incessant, jazz waltz tempo. He starts to break free on Moravian Girl , a slow dreamy melody without drums. But 45 seconds later he brings in the drums for a second pass. Then 2 minutes into the piece, he returns, confound it, to that darned swing 3/4 time. Then back to a slow 3/4 refrain and back again to that swing tempo. I would've loved to hear the whole song on unaccompanied accordion, slow and without all the arpeggios, runs and grace notes. (Did I mention that 11 of the tracks are in 3/4 or 6/8 time? One track, Ararat , is a slow fox-trot and what a refreshing change that is!)

Another way out of the box (a box which Ganian is probably very comfortable in) shows up in another CD, "Tribute to Astor Piazzolla." One of the tracks is Michael's Verucchio performed by the Orchestra Sinfonica. The sameness that permeates "Touch" is relieved by the new orchestration and arrangement. I'm suggesting that Michael turn over his musical ideas to an arranger who can score them for other instruments.

I suspect Michael will be commercially very successful with this recording. And I really do like his style in a guilty pleasure sort of way. But some of the beauty of Ganian's compositions is lost in that driving waltz beat with accordion licks filling in all the empty spots. I'll bet a violin could caress some real beauty out of his melodies if he would just yield some playing space. But right now there's just too much Michael Ganian for me and his chops are smothering the songs.

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