How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
With the re-release of two earlier albums in the 2-CD Lullaby Of Birdland compilation, Concord has accomplished more than recalling the George Shearing's association with the label. Concord is giving proof of the reason for it.
Simply put, Lullaby Of Birdland provides the evidence for Concord's signing of Shearing. The two albums within, Blues Alley Jazz and On A Clear Day, present Shearing in a duo with bassist Brian Torff that engages audiences on two coasts: one at the Blues Alley in Washington D.C. and the other at the Concord Jazz Festival near San Francisco. These two albums were the first of Shearing's that Concord released.
And Shearing is at the top of his form on both of them, combining his wit, technical precision, ever-present flow and varied touch for two engaging concerts that draw in the audience, no matter what its degree of musical sophistication. In addition, Torff participates not in a traditional walking bass style, but with his own personalized, melodic approach that's the equal of Shearing's rapidity of thought. In fact, Torff's excellence attains such a high level throughout both disks that one wonders why he hasn't attained a greater level of recognition among the public.
Starting out their two-CD series with Billy Taylor's "One For The Woofer," Shearing and Torff capture the audience's attention and imagination right away, Shearing sliding in quotes like "Oleo" and Torff fluid and strong with chorded accents and triplets in call and response. Blues Alley Jazz achieves a high point of sorts on Torff's tune, "High And Inside," which Shearing coyly introduces by saying that he just learned that it's a baseball term. ("I'm used to cricket.") Torff takes flight as Shearing comps, and "High And Inside" is a bass-led piece from conception to execution. As are Torff's other numbers, "Brasil '79" and "Blue Island Blues." Aggressive and yet sensitive to the exigencies of melody, Torff combines improvisational originality with showmanship to wow the audience.
Shearing follows "High And Inside" with a solo interpretation of Harold Arlen's "For Every Man There's A Woman," reminding listeners of his ability to communicate the essence of a ballad. And then surprisingly, Shearing sings. Gerry Mulligan's and Mel Tormé's "This Couldn't Be The Real Thing" and "Have You Met Miss Jones?" are effective and unaffected, Shearing accompanying himself.
Lullaby Of Birdland, even though recorded two decades ago, remains fresh and invigorating because of the brilliant match-up of two empathetic musicians feeding off the energy of their audiences.
Track Listing: Disk 1: One For The Woofer, Autumn In New York, The Masquerade Is Over, That's What She Say, Son It's Gonna Rain, High And Inside, For Every Man There's A Woman, This Couldn't Be The Real Thing, Up A Lazy River
Disk 2: Love For Sale, On A Clear Day, Brasil '79, Don't Explain, Happy Days Are Here Again, Have You Mete Miss Jones, Blue Island Blues, Blue Island Blues
Personnel: George Shearing, piano; Brian Torff, bass