Willie "The Lion" Smith & Don Ewell: Stride Piano Duets. Live In Toronto 1966 (2008)
The more time passes, the starker the light thrown on a release like this. This is a point that can't be emphasized enough when it comes to something like the stride piano style and Delmark deserves high praise indeed for putting in the work necessary to get this music out there.
Smith was arguably the greatest stride exponent, but it would be a little misleading to suggest that Ewell was a relative acolyte, especially in view of the fact that as duettists they dovetail to such a degree that it's impossible to tell where one man's input ends and the other man's begins. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is a case in point, and not merely because the two men manage to make it sound like anything but the hackneyed ditty that it is.
Any joy of life implicit in that one is more than obvious in the medley of "Linger Awhile/Shine" where Smith's vocal is the epitome of that joy. Indeed throughout this program it's clear that he was intent on living up to some larger than life persona, and he does it with such relish that the listener would have to have a heart of stone not to get caught up in it.
Even when the mood is relatively tranquil, as it unsurprisingly is on "If I Could Be With You," there's still that spirit born only of life lived to the full and without a care for tomorrow. In a sense, of course, this throws up a problem in so far as that joy referred to above seems to be the preserve of the world from which Smith in particular came. "I Found A New Baby" makes the point in no uncertain terms, especially as even the straightforward reading of the melody seems simultaneously to be subjected to a variety of dissection.
Smith is alone on "Here Comes The Band," a title which in the circumstances may or may not be ironic. Being the character that he is, he makes the most of it regardless of such issues. Again the life is singular and the depth of it is never in any doubt. It's good for what ails you, but then when the likes of Smith and Ewell are at the helm it couldn't possibly be any other way.
Track Listing: Relaxin'; Blue Skies; I Found A New Baby; Tea For Two; Charleston; You're Driving Me Crazy; Here Comes The Band; Sweet Georgia Brown; Georgia On My Mind; Linger Awhile/Shine; If I Could Be With You; Just You, Just Me; Squeeze Me; Twelfth Street Rag.
Personnel: Willie "The Lion" Smith: piano, vocals (10, 11) Don Ewell: piano.