Lucky for us that jazz is virtually meaningless in the bigger picture of today’s popular entertainment. I say this because if music were like art at the turn of the century, this recording by Ted Rosenthal may have caused fistfights. It’s not that the solo pianist has created a shocking Nude Descending a Staircase as much as he is making music like those old Reeces Cup commercials. “Hey, you got your jazz in my classical.” “No, you stuck your classical in my jazz.”
Rosenthal a former winner (1988) of the Thelonious Monk piano competition is also a very gifted classical music pianist. He chose three B’s for this record, Bud, Bill and Ludwig, err Bud Powell, Bill Evans and Beethoven. The logic of the music selected appears to focus on Bill Evans. He would be the Jeopardy answer to the question: What do you get when you mix bebop with classical music?
Back to the fist fight. Classical fans opine you cannot improvise on the sonatas of Beethoven. Rosenthal does. Jazz aficionados (those of the Monk, Bird, and Bud ilk) cringe at the clarity in which Rosenthal proceeds with Bud Powell’s “Celia” and “Wail,” because we loved Bud, warts and all.
Rosenthal has a precision about his playing that is more about the academic lifeline jazz holds onto today, then the rent parties worked in the 1950s. The first few go-rounds with the music selected leaves the listener cold on the Powell music (too sterile), scratching their head on the Beethoven (where did he detour from the written parts?), and satisfied with his take on Evans.
Repeated spins and the three composer’s music integrates into not three styles but one voice, that of Rosenthal. Sure nobody can play “Parisian Thoroughfare” like Bud, and Rosenthal has no desire to.
His classically modernist take on Powell and Evans fits hand-in-glove with the improvised Beethoven.