One of the many advantages of indie CDs is that they don't have a sell-by date: you can miss their debut and still write about them. This one stayed in its shrink wrap for over two years, overlooked in the ever-growing pile in my office, but when I finally freed it, just recently, I knew I had to send up a flare.
Ted Rosenthal is a wonderfully elegant pianist: strong, flowing, lyrical and clean, he's one of the best we've got, despite his comparatively low public profile (although musicians universally respect him). On this solo CD, he swims happily in Gunther Schuller's third stream, bridging the divide between jazz and classical with grace and imagination. The "3Bs" of the title refer to the music of Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Beethoven, which Rosenthal honors in this well-paced and delightful session.
The recording opens with a transcendent version of Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy," which Evans "put on the map" for pianists, and closes with a masterful "Tea for Two" in 5/4. In between there are signature tunes, among them Evans's "Turn Out the Stars" and "Waltz for Debby," and Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Tempis Fugit." While I've always been an Evans fan, it took this CD for me to really understand Powell's genius.
But the biggest revelation was Rosenthal's take on Beethoven, particularly his improvisations on the fabled "Pathetique" sonata. As a pianist who's wrestled with that monster myself, I deeply appreciate his distillation of its melodic and harmonic elements into jazz. His choices are nothing less than brilliant, illuminating the timeless essence of the piece in a different language and mood.
Rosenthal has that rare gift of unfussy expressiveness. He has chops to burn, but uses them to serve the emotional heart of the music. He deserves to be far better-known, and so does his trio workas in the remarkable 2001 Threeplay trio CD, with Dennis Irwin and Matt Wilson, also on Playscape, where his compositional talents are evident. I was late to the party on that one, too, but better late than never. Much better.