David Helbock Improvises on Songs by Prince
Anyone who went to a party anywhere in the world in the late 1980s has heard his songs: Prince Rogers Nelson – born in Minneapolis in 1958 – was the king of pop music back then, and was also favoured in intellectual circles. Jazz pianist David Helbock – born in Koblach, Austria, in 1984 – discovered Prince’s music much later and has now dedicated an entire piano solo album to the star.
His CD titled Purple has turned out to be a beautiful homage to Prince. Helbock succeeds with a balancing act between closeness to and distance from the original songs as he reduces each of them to a single instrument: a Bechstein concert grand piano. Driving beats (Kiss, Delirious) are interspersed with quiescent passages (Purple Rain). One minute the Bechstein grand chirps like a cembalo, and the next it unfurls its full blaze of colour. Direct comparison of Helbock’s versions to the originals is a sheer pleasure, as this classically trained jazz pianist strips down Prince’s songs without distorting them. Moreover, Diamonds and Pearls pervades the album like a leitmotif: Helbock plucks — or rather hammers — Prince’s simple theme (D-E-G-H-G) on strings, uses it as short meditative introduction or snappy transition to the next song, and finally plays it harmoniously at the very end of the CD. Fascinating.
Martin Offik (recording, mixing) and Wolfgang Loos (mastering) made superb contributions to this production from the Berlin label Traumton. Truly dreamy sounds!