Instrumental careers aren’t easy to maintain, but the Charl du Plessis Trio has achieved just that. DIANE DE BEER reflects on their reincarnation and their latest release It Takes Three, a title that aptly captures their current status:
PICTURES: Bernard Brand:
If there’s something that should be clear by now if following the career of pianist (and a string of other titles) Charl du Plessis, it’s not to expect the expected.
This artist thinks clearly about every step he makes and takes in his always-evolving career. This time the light shines brightly on the Charl du Plessis Trio, which have just released a new CD ̶ not something rare for this trio, which includes Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drummer), and yet something unique in their recording history.
For the first time, says Du Plessis from the stage of their launch concert (which will be followed by a string of concerts around the country and probably internationally as well) they have workshopped this latest offering.
This is a result of a change in the Trio, with their original drummer relocating to China and being replaced with drummer/sound engineer Peter Auret, a man who has been seriously performing and recording with his own style very much in evidence.
As with any change, whether one is comfortable or not, especially in the creative sphere it often brings excitement, and in this instance, it seems a chemistry that has worked positively for the musos. “Peter is an experienced recording artist with his own studio and many awards. He speaks his mind and makes suggestions which changed the dynamics in the group,” says Du Plessis.
What it meant is that this latest effort was a much more democratic effort, he says ̶ tongue-in-cheek. “Usually I would do the arrangements and hand them over to the others ̶ a done deal.” But this time they workshopped the album with all three contributing arrangements on particular compositions. The change is dramatic, which is important when part of what you do is record. You don’t want all the albums to sound identical.
This has always been a Du Plessis trademark. As a pianist he has understood that to have a career on stage, he has to mix it up – but with thought.
The selection of music might puzzle those who aren’t familiar with the Trio’s work – dominated by classical music that is reworked and arranged to great effect. The days are long gone where audiences aren’t accepting of this kind of crossover especially when those in charge are adept in both genres – classical and jazz.
From Richard Wagner’s Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser to Chick Corea’s Spain, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to When The Saints Go Marching In, the mix is eclectic and exciting and much of the fun is recognising the original composition and how they play with it in subtle, serious and expansive ways.
And the recording itself was also an unusual one. Du Plessis, who has been recording for many years both in personal and in group capacity, has had a few unpleasant and perhaps less productive sessions in the past. Now, even with someone in the group who has the expertise, they still called in the specialists to do the recording – on the Atterbury stage, which was specially set up to replicate a recording studio.
One has to know that even these unique circumstances would have influenced the performance and the outcomes. That and the fact that the sound engineer in their midst could then take his time and work on the final product. “It truly shows,” says Du Plessis – and of course it will. Who would not make their own product simply the best?
All of this started as the second year of Covid uncertainty kicked in at the start of 2021. Artists have had a torrid time. Audiences are their lifeblood and these were not allowed. Imagine 50 people at a show ̶ you don’t even cover the cost of staging the performance.
Making music is the focus:
Travelling overseas for concerts, which is a huge part of their year, was up in the air and Du Plessis decided their project would be the recording. “It was also time to establish Peter as part of our recording cycle,” he explains and they set out to create the perfect circumstances for an end product that would have all three of them smiling.
That’s exactly what they did on stage at the launch, which was a fun affair. Du Plessis kept the chatter to a minimum while the boys dressed in black with designer (I have to assume) tackies (just to add some informality to what might be perceived as too staid an event).
The other ingredient in this production is the Steinway concert grand piano, which Du Plessis (a Steinway artist) went to fetch for the Atterbury Theatre a couple of years back at the Steinway & Sons factory in Hamburg, Germany.
There you have the chance to test many different pianos to make a very personal choice. At the time, when playing something on the piano for the first time, his thought was how cool it would be to make a recording, but also perform live on stage on this exquisite instrument.
It was obvious when attending the concert and then listening to the recording, that they pulled it all off. These are three talented and dedicated musicians who pooled their skills to enhance the end product, and with piano, drums and bass in the mix, the sound is rich and pliable – and the music familiar and yet completely new.
Like with any Du Plessis concert, and I’m not exaggerating, it’s beautifully compiled – both live and on the CD – and all you have to do in both instances (which is the perfect combo, is kick back, embrace and allow the music to wash over you.
Two more concerts in Gauteng are on the cards: