Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.
There are fewer Allison originals than one might prefer here; instead he takes on classic blues (Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son") and jazz (Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"). But the originals that are here (like "Young Man's Blues," which was covered by the Who) are worth the price of admission. The reissue adds four tracks and a revised running order, and highlights Van Gelder's flawless production.The 2006 Rudy Van Gelder remaster of MOSE ALLISON SINGS reminds listeners that Allison was churning out great songs and performances as far back as 1957 (and that he's been doing the same ever since). The artist's distinctive mixture of blues, jazz, dynamic piano playing, and witty songwriting plays loud and clear on this early offering.