Didier Squiban is a French pianist based in Brittany who has been adapting and transposing traditional song and dance tunes from the Breton repertoire into the jazz idiom since the late 1970s. Traditional music has always been a fertile ground for jazz with so many fantastic themes allowing for endless possibilities.

As regards jazz pianists, Jan Johansson has for instance explored the Swedish folk repertoire in the 1960s while Irish pianist and composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin has also approached some traditional Irish tunes through jazz in his solo piano work. Italian pianist Giovanni Mirabassi has reinterpreted revolutionary folk songs from around the world on the piano and Tigran Hamasyan’s music is strongly influenced by Armenian folk music.

Didier Squiban - Porz Gwenn (1999)
Didier Squiban – Porz Gwenn (1999)

Breton singing had always been part of Didier Squiban’s cultural background, but that interest probably crystallised following a meeting with traditional Breton singer Yann-Fañch Kemener in the early 1990s. Several recordings with the latter ensued, followed by Molène (1997), Porz Gwenn (1999) and Rozbras (2001), a superb trilogy of solo piano music uniquely dedicated to Breton tunes and songs.

Instead of going into a recording studio, the musician decided to capture the music live as close as possible to where it originated. The three albums were recorded in small local churches selected for their particular acoustic qualities and located in western Brittany.

Ridées are traditional dance tunes with a six or eight beat rhythm from the Vannes region and the “Ridée de Loperhet” is a variation on two separate airs, one traditional and the other one composed by Breton guitar player Gilles Le Bigot. Through the prism of jazz piano, Didier Squiban shines a wonderful new light on Brittany’s rich and diverse musical heritage.