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The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998

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Album Review

Tom Varner's interpretations from that rich mine that is American music is, quite simply, one of the most ear-opening and singular recordings to be heard in too long. The Missouri-bred horn player looks out over two centuries of diverse and inspiring creation. He chooses to take great liberty with some of the most hallowed themes from the land of liberty, like the drunken, faltering deconstruction of "When the Saints Go Marching In." But for anyone having strolled down Bourbon street knows that this version, which begins strong and "straight" to end a bleary recollection, is closest to the spirit of New Orleans. Partitioning this recording into a beginning and an end is two classic, country chestnuts given a compelling voice by Thirsty Dave Hansen, the title track (George Jones), and then Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man." Before "The Window up Above" is a single track, a treatment of the Revolutionary War-era "Stone Grinds All." This lone song (largely a fiddle solo by Mark Feldman) expresses both Varner's plain love for this music and the ability to throw in a stunning jazz treatment from the horn. Between Jones and Williams are spirituals, a weeping "Over the Rainbow," Gershwin, and more. After Williams are three more spirituals and two interesting additions to the collection. First, Bruce Springsteen's "With Every Wish" "sung" as all but Hansen's contributions are, by the horn with all the necessary gospel-soul to contain it in the greater picture. This is also where you find the one original, "The Best Thing," an expansive summary by the horn, encompassing the sounds of America, especially jazz, and upheld by double bass and percussion treatments.


Born: 17 June 1957 in Morristown, NJ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

There have been few French horn soloists in jazz but, even if there had been dozens, chances are that Tom Varner would rank near the top. He started on piano at age eight and a year later switched to French horn, discovering his predecessor Julius Watkins' recordings when he was 17. He graduated from the New England Conservatory and, in 1979, moved to New York. Since then, Varner has recorded several albums (mostly for Soul Note) as a leader, and has worked with such players as Dave Liebman, Bobby...
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The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998, Tom Varner
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  • £7.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: 01 January 1998

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