The US producer and piano man to the stars reduces standards by Irving Berlin and more to single takes of soothing simplicity
With its seasonal releases and Slade on repeat, December feels like it turns most music into repellent aural wallpaper. Thomas Bartlett’s Standards is definitely not a Christmas album but a set of solo piano versions of well-worn, old-timey tunes – jazz and otherwise – whose simplicity and serenity might provide an antidote. They suit the dark, sentimental nights rather than extended hours at the mall.
The Grammy-nominated Bartlett – AKA Doveman – has quietly become something of a piano man to the stars. Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens and St Vincent are just three of his collaborators; he’s currently writing a Broadway version of The Great Gatsby with Florence Welch. When Bartlett was working with Bebel Gilberto on an album of her father’s music, he began idly picking at old chestnuts – like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – for his own pleasure. (PR materials report that he was watching the BBC’s Line of Duty at the time.) The point was to uncouple his fingers from his brain. Gradually, those fingers began evoking memories of his grandmother’s favourite songs – like Irving Berlin’s often saccharine How Deep Is the Ocean. This, and curveballs such as the bossa nova tune Black Orpheus, are reduced here to just gestural essentials. Everything is unvarnished, recorded in one take and hauntingly familiar without being cloying.
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