Eyran Katsenelenbogen: Solotude (2006)
Based on hearing Eyran Katsenelenbogen's new solo record, I have no choice but to say that Art Tatum's spirit inhabits this phenomenal musician. To be able to even remotely compare a pianist to Tatum is saying something, and even if you are familiar with Tatum's playing (say, on Pablo), you might not be prepared for what comes out of your speakers.
Solotude is made up of sixteen standards, including "Solitude"; two of the tracks are live, including a second version of "Do You Love Me" (from Fiddler On The Roof). Among other things, Tatum is famous for recording over 120 tunes in groups of fifteen, each in about an hour. In other words, he just sat down and played, oblivious that the tape was rolling. While these tracks have been collected from sessions spanning three years, one gets the feeling that Katsenelenbogen could also do this feat.
But stamina is hardly the issue. Solotude displays pianism of the highest order, combined with deep musicianship and extremely fast musical reflexes. In the notes to the Pablo solo sessions, Benny Green notes that when Tatum plays something that sounds out of time, it is actually exactly in time, and the same is true here. There seems to be a metronome ticking in Katsenelenbogen's head.
Even putting all of this aside, what Katsenelenbogen says during the actual improvisations makes each track an exciting adventure and the entire disc a fascinating journey. Many of the tracks are under three minutes, which further links him to the past and its attendant recording time limit. He manages to maintain contact with each tune while taking instantaneous flights of fancy (in perfect time), but he never sounds like he is showing off; everything just flows. Like Tatum, his music does not swing in the normal way, and even on something like Paul Desmond's "Take Five," the bass vamp never sounds repetitive. The two Monk tunes, "Rhythm-A-Ning" and "Blue Monk," are all Katsenelenbogen but never lose the Monkishness that make his tunes so instantly recognizable.
The longer tracks, "But Beautiful" (seven minutes) and "You Must Believe In Spring" (ten minutes) never flag and clearly show the pianist's ability to be expansive and still maintain a sense of the whole. These two tracks are full of drama and sweep the listener along.
And yet everything sounds completely improvised on the spot. Of course, Katsnelenbogen has played these tunes for years, but every run, arpeggio and figure that passes through his hands sounds freshly imagined. As if to make this point clear, the record begins and ends with two entirely different versions of "Do You Love Me."
However you experience Solotude, it is an amazing recital.
Track Listing: Do You Love Me?; Stompin' At The Savoy; Solitude; Lady Be Good; Jersey Bounce; Rhythm-A-Ning; Take Five; Armando's Rhumba; Monk; Blue Monk; Four Brothers; But Beautiful; All The Things You Are; The Christmas Song; You Must Believe In Spring; Bouncin' With Bud; Do You Love Me?
Personnel: Eyran Katsenelenbogen: piano.