Ferrante & Teicher
Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi






When I am reviewing material of renowned pianists Arthur “Art” Ferrante (1921–2009) and Louis Teicher (1924–2008), I’m in need of a disclaimer more often than not. Depending on the listener’s habits, one either hails and adores the duo’s works of the 50’s or despises it with passion. In the 50’s, Ferrante & Teicher came up with a great idea that hasn’t aged too well in times of ubiquitous synthesizers, but is still astonishing enough: on their debut Soundproof (1955), they tweaked their pianos in order to let them sound completely out of this world and, well, out of touch. Woodblocks, styrofoam, rubber and plastics are used in order to bend the frequencies, absorb the resonance, drench the sustain, interpolate the decay, you name it. The various classics are almost unrecognizable and unbelievably cold and sinister at first sight. With every subsequent listening session, the pieces open up, revealing mellow nuclei and benignant attitudes. The same is true for Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi, released in 1957 on ABC-Paramount. Spanning 10 classics and 2 unique tunes, the title is unfortunately overly bland and doesn’t describe the true focal point: romantic songs about the moon, stars and space that are mercilessly transformed and twitched. The results are regularly astonishing, alienating… shocking.


In hindsight – i.e. today – one cannot believe the opening chords that grace Edgar Leslie’s and Fred Ahlert’s The Moon Was Yellow once it turns up in the hands of Ferrante & Teicher. The arpeggio you hear at the beginning is no Moog synthesizer, but an altered piano. The result sounds highly electronic, but is your archetypical Steinway at the end of the day. The bewildering punctilio soon conflates with darker piano tones before a glistening music box evokes the twinkling spirit in tandem with a rufescent harpsichord. This rendition is driven, it quite literally feels lunatic. A dun-colored Latin spirit overshadows the occasional bit of genteelness. Eldritch and eclectic, it showcases all the right things about the duo’s escapades in the 50’s. Up next is Ned Washington’s and Vincent Young’s blooming classic Stella By Starlight which turns clandestine and oneiric when Ferrante & Teicher get hold of it. The glissando of the vibes and their plastic vitreosity is sweet and enigmatic at the same time, however, the mellow esprit is ultimately harmed by the staggeringly recondite rhythm piano and the Gothic harpsichord. Tawny and surreal, Stella is transmogrified into an intermediate being hued in portentous twilight. Shudder!


Hoagy Carmichael’s and Mitchell Parish’s Stardust continues the star-covered journey of the pianists, and as expected continues the pace of spacy staccato fusillades whose mucoid prongs emanate uncertainty and quandary. The glockenspiel-alloyed lead melody shuttles between well-groomed – and recognizable – piano chords and pulsating antimatter that certainly derives from the same kind of instrument… but I’m not too sure about that anymore. Meanwhile, Stars In My Eyes by Dorothy Fields and Fritz Kreisler is one of side A’s few bewitching cataracts. Here, the harpsichord granuloma works well with the horticultural vibe aureoles and helicoidal piano billows. Naturally, a few ill-conceived tones sneak into the fibrillar diorama here and there, but all in all, the magic is rescued and remains unharmed throughout the arrangement. Minimalistic but comparatively vanillarific, Arthur Freed’s and Nacio Herb Brown’s The Moon Is Low emits saffron euphony aplenty when the glockenspiel and recognizable piano unite, but the ligneous woodpecker rhythm is surely not everyone’s taste and an uncanny force to reckon with. Edgar "Yip" Harburg’s and Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow is the cajoling vestibule that leads to the end, a parable of the conflictive forces that reign in Ferrante & Teicher’s intertwinement. Bumpy pianos rise into the sky to the twinkling glockenspiel, moments of silence boost the lachrymosity, but these contrapuntal forces are ultimately prone to clash.


Side B continues to unite the raspy charm of the harpsichord with modified pianos and twinkling vesicles. An evergreen by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer greets the listener: Out Of This World serrates insectoid flitters, glaucous-glacial piano chords and percolating harpsichord sinews that may be alkaloidal indeed, but not necessarily sweet in a nutritious way. The last third is especially weird as the staccato levels rise and lead to anhydride grimness. Edward Heyman’s and Johnny Green’s adjacent Out Of Nowhere sees its nonentity transferred into a proper Space-Age complete with discordant chords, glassy vibraphone crystals and viscoelastic radio waves. The majesty of the melody somehow survives and makes this a lush affair after all.


Beyond The Moon meanwhile is one of two unique compositions specifically written for this album by the pianists themselves. Running for almost four minutes, it is also the gentlest piece, with a focus on harmonious textures and mica rather than bewildering foreign matter. Amethystine and caproic, this piece is soothing, keen on letting silence in when necessary, willingly stressing sustain and decay whenever possible. While I’ve Told Every Little Star by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II is a similarly polyfoil capsule of mellifluousness that is especially ablaze with glistening mallet instruments and whistles, Brooks Bowman’s East Of The Sun sees its high-plasticity glints caulked by aquatically muffled piano accompaniments. The endpoint is reserved for the second piece by the duo: Serenade To A Star is an eerie plasticizer of frightening glitters, a stomping rhythm piano and darkly rubicund keys. Compunction poured into music.


This is a Ferrante & Teicher production alright! Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi doesn’t hold back and glides through the mephitic air like a convulsive phoenix. It stumbles, tumbles and stutters on all cylinders, mistaking an array of varied textures for a successful method of enchantment, but as usual, this is all part of the master plan. It is astonishing how far the duo reaches out against all odds; the material is just too romantic and rose-tinted, one might think. But these thoughts are of no importance once these seraphs turn into hybrids and make this a very intriguing album that is neither as incredibly otherworldly and harsh as the duo’s debut, nor as mercurial and warmhearted as the 60’s reticulation. Indeed, Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi sits right on the edge of changing times. On the one hand, it has yet to feature the symphonic backdrops that the duo allowed to enter throughout the 60’s; on the other hand, the tweaked pianos are still on the forefront, spawning both alluvial and hazardous frequencies that melt into a conglomeration that belongs to equal parts to the Jazz and the Space-Age genre. It plays with your expectations, it mobs them up and fulfills them only seconds later. Only one thing this LP is not: predictable. It’s best to pre-listen to Ferrante & Teicher, as this material is proper Space-Age. Available on all kinds of physical and digital media. 


Exotica Review 459: Ferrante & Teicher – Heavenly Sounds In Hi-Fi (1957). Originally published on Nov. 14, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.