Pianadelphia: A Philadelphia Jazz Tribute
“ Like a set of fine China, this CD is characterized by its craftsmanship, its delicacy combined with resilience, and its sheer beauty. ”
A Philadelphia Jazz Tribute
This superb recording is the first in a projected series featuring Philadelphia jazz musicians. It consists of specially recorded, solo piano tracks by some of the finest jazz pianists currently residing or performing in the Philadelphia area. In the near future, the producer, Todd Horton, plans to issue a recording focusing on saxophonists, to be followed in turn by the other instruments in the jazz ensemble. The series will showcase the extraordinary talent centered in and around Philadelphia, both historically and today.
The historical perspective has been captured here by inviting each performer to play a song composed by a Philadelphia musician. Thus pianist and big-band leader Don Wilson performs Lee Morgan's beautiful ballad, "Ceora. Morgan, a great trumpet player who died back in 1972, came up in Philadelphia, and was a close friend of Wilson. The Philly connection is reiterated this way in every performance. Great tunes by saxophonists John Coltrane and Benny Golson, pianist McCoy Tyner and guitarist Pat Martino, for example, echo the early days of post-bebop in the city, and also remind us that jazz in Philadelphia has made an indelible mark on jazz around the world.
Like a set of fine China, Pianadelphia is characterized by its craftsmanship, delicacy and sheer beauty. Each musician shows himself to be an exquisite interpreter of the jazz piano idiom, demonstrating how spontaneous variations of simple tunes can become memorable compositions in themselves. Each pianist performed on a refurbished 1928 Steinway Grand in a studio with excellent acoustics and "pin-drop silence.
The microphone types and placements (see Production Notes below) have captured the music with perfection. What you hear is a pure distillation of modern jazz piano, without extraneous sounds, crowd-pleasing effects or the disturbing imperfections that occur even in some studio settings. The recording was obviously a labor of love for Horton and the pianists, and nothing but the highest quality would do.
The album is of interest from several standpoints. As a highly listenable set of jazz piano performances for both the casual and serious jazz lover; as a demonstration of Philadelphia's prodigious musical network; and as a series of fascinating and rich interpretations that reflect various styles and approaches to modern jazz piano.
Wonderful similaritiesand equally wonderful contrastsabound from start to finish. Take the ballads. Trudy Pitts' version of Coltrane's "Naima, Dave Posmontier's rendition of Golson's "Whisper Not, Wilson's performance of Morgan's "Ceora, and Ron Thomas' take on Martino's "Portrait Of Diana are lyrical expressions honoring the respective composers. Pitts offers an impassioned "romantic feel for the Coltrane piece, with shades of French impressionism. Posmontier delivers an intriguing theme and variations on "Whisper Not, incorporating styles ranging from swing and bebop to ragtime. Wilson performs "Ceora with the sensitivity of the master musician he is. Thomas gives "Diana the delicacy of fine lace, revealing in his arrangement his longtime interest in contemporary classical composers like Karl Heinz Stockhausen and Eliot Carter.
By contrast, Tom Lawton plays Hank Mobley's "The Third Time Around with percussive syncopations, the use of thick chord structures, spontaneous motifs, and a firm hand reminiscent of Mobley's assertive saxophone style. Jim Ridl's reading of Martino's early composition, "The Great Stream, takes the tune into the stratosphere with modernistic counterpoints and fugue-like passages utilizing Ridl's remarkable virtuosity and mastery of the blues. Paul Sotille plays Bobby Timmons' "Moanin' with a contemplative soulfulness.
Neil Podgurski chose Sun Ra's "Springtime In Chicago, and offers a vibrant hommage to Ra's remarkable contribution to jazz. The keyboardist and band leader's outlandish ways, including his belief that he came from Saturn, in whose imagined native costumes he often dressed, have tended to obscure his extraordinary inventiveness. Ra contributed in a big way to many of the jazz styles that emerged after bebop, and particularly to Coltrane's later work.
The activist subtext behind Pianadelphia, as expressed by Horton in his advance publicity, is to highlight the difficulties musicians face finding serious work and earning a decent living (everywhere, not just in Philadelphia). None of the musicians on the disc could be described as living at subsistence level; they all earn a good livelihood. But due to the high attrition rate of jazz clubs in the Philadelphia area, players often struggle to find opportunities to pursue their craft in front of live audiences. Yet these are master craftsmen whose work contributes immeasurably to jazz as an art form, and jazz is America set to music.
America, shamefully, does little to reward its musicians or cultivate jazz. One can only hope that Pianadelphia will somehow reach people of influence, and move them to facilitate a rebirth of venues, recording opportunities, patronage and grantsnot just for those in the limelight, but for the hard-working musicians who create the music on a daily basis.
Production Notes: On hearing the exceptional sound quality of this disc, I contacted Todd Horton and asked him for details of the recording setup. He reported that the microphones used were a pair of Earthworks Omnis and an AEA R84 Ribbon, each recorded through Millenia pre-amps. The analog to digital conversion was done at an extremely high resolution, a rate of 88.2 kHz. The R84 was used as a center mic and was placed about a foot and a half directly above the middle of the sound board. The Earthworks were placed outside of the piano, about two and a half feet from either end of the sound board, spaced about four feet from each other. No reverb or compression were used at any time during the recording, mixing or mastering.
Horton also said that each performance was filmed, and then each pianist was interviewed to camera. Some of this footage is available as a promotional video, which can be viewed at the Soulsearch Music website. Horton's long-term goal is a documentary film on the history of jazz in Philadelphia.
Tracks: The Third Time Around; Naima; Whisper Not; The Great Stream; Ceora; Search For Peace; A Portrait Of Diana; Stablemates; Voice Of The Saxophone; Moanin'; Contemplation; This Here; Equinox; Springtime In Chicago.
Personnel: Pianists include Tom Lawton, Trudy Pitts, Dave Posmontier, Jim Ridl, Don Wilson, Sid Simmons, Ron Thomas, Bill Schilling, Lucas Brown, Paul Sottile, Rich Budesa, Gary Moran, George Burton and Neil Podgurski.