John Lewis: Evolution (2002)
Like a kindly grandfather with many adventures in his past and stories to tell, John Lewis tells the most ripping stories as a soloist. For years the musical director of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis has become known for his abilities to marry the bebop language with European classicism. As a musician, he's too often accused for his rigidity, formality and near refusal to swing. None of this logic prevails when he is the sole instrument.
This is not a frequent turn of events either, as Lewis has only recorded as a soloist for Emarcy in 1990, Dreyfus in 1979 and French Columbia in 1976 (he's also been heard as a soloist on several bebop compilations). He's not nearly the prolific recording artist that his former MJQ compatriot, the late, great Milt Jackson, was either. So available samples of this grand pianist's abilities outside the MJQ are too few and far between.
There is something appropriately autumnal in Lewis's selections here, suggesting reflection and reminisce. But, more importantly, there is a joyous unpredictability of an ageless spirit here too, a sense of daring and a romance with adventure. Lewis embarks upon six chestnuts of the jazz canon including the playful and sparkling "Sweet Georgia Brown," the emotive musings of "September Song," "I'll Remember April" (which, miraculously, suggests the poetry of skating), the randy "Cherokee" and "Willow Weep For Me" (revealing Lewis's adept skill at orchestrating a simple melody). He also weighs in with his five of own great contributions to the jazz language, including "Two Degrees, Three Degrees West" (not as much about East and West Coasts here as it is about European classicism and American blues), the very Duke-like "For Ellington," the galloping "At The Horse Show" and a cleverly mischievous reflection on "Django."
Recorded by E. Alan Silver last January at Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York, there is also something personal and private about these recollections. It's as if Lewis gives his performance with a great love solely for the one listener in his audience, you. Perhaps that explains the odd - but satisfying gratitude one feels each time these performances are heard.
Evolution is, quite simply, outstanding and perhaps the greatest achievement in John Lewis's already impressive career. Some of Lewis best performances and loveliest ruminations can be found here. What a pleasure to possess a performance that is all yours. What a pleasure this master makes it to enjoy again and again. Grand indeed.
Players:John Lewis: solo piano.
Tracks:Sweet Georgia Brown; September Song; Afternoon In Paris; Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West; I'll Remember April; Django; Willow Weep For Me; Cherokee; For Ellington; Don't Blame Me; At The Horse Show.