Some of the finest musicians in jazz music are among the most self-effacing people on the planet. The Scottish pianist, Brian Kellock
, is one such personality. For almost three decades, Edinburgh-born Kellock has, more often than not, been the first-call pianist on stage and in the studio for jazz musicians such as Warren Vache
, Scott Hamilton
, Julian Arguelles
, Liane Carroll
, Sheila Jordan
, and the The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
. Internationally, he has cemented links with Australian trumpeter James Morrison and appears regularly at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival
. He also constitutes one half of a popular duo with Scots saxophonist Tommy Smith
His typically muted explanation for Bidin' My Time
, his admirable foray into solo jazz piano, is typically understated. "I've been very interested in playing solo piano of lateespecially trying to get to grips with the wonderful world of stride," Kellock states. He has, in fact, produced a CD full of wit, elegance and energy, which combines rip-roaring exposition with a reflective take on evocative songs from the 1930s and 1940s.
Old familiars such as "Slow Boat to China" and "I Got Rhythm" feature here, but it would be trite to describe the album as a pianistic selection of jazz standards and Broadway melodies. Kellock makes his creative intentions plain enough from the opening track, Rodgers and Hart's "Easy to Remember." His version takes a seductive hit melody from the 1935 musical Mississippi
and carefully posits each note in the exact place that a lyrical syllable might correctly occupy. The piano actually "sings" with a very human voice in an interpretation that makes the tune sound instantly familiar. The variations and improvisations are sparing, they but are sure-fingered and never wander aimlessly as is all too often the case with solo piano.
Kellock describes himself as grappling with the stride piano style of Fats Waller
, though he doesn't seem too intimidated by it. On "Prisoner of Love" and "A Handful Of Keys," he applies a gentle touch to tunes that are all too often uncomfortably sandwiched between heavy-handed pastiche and obsequious homage. In Kellock's world of stride, the tune isn't held hostage to demonstrative showboating. Instead, he marries his expertise to genuine affection for the music, and thus strikes the right balance between reverence and rejuvenation.
Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China" is a good example, even if Kellock's tramp steamer sounds as though it's in a big hurry to reach its destination. The pace on Loesser's poker-faced musical gag is fast and furious, but it's never superficial or flashy. It's solid, assured and full of endless vitality and invention. Fats Waller's "Keys" unlocks the secrets of syncopation in a musical "white-knuckle ride" conducted at blistering pace speed with astonishing accuracy. At times, a fear for Kellock's personal safety arises, and it seems he can't possibly keep it up, but he does.
The music that lingers longest after listening, however, is contained in the ballads on this recording. "Heather on the Hill" (Lerner and Loewe), "Young and Foolish" (Hague and Horwitt) and "Wait Til You See Her" (Rodgers and Hart) are all show tunes from hit musicals that have been repeatedly revived and revisited. Kellock is a good friend to great melodies and he demonstrates the timeless qualities of period songwriting that defies the ageing process.
"Bidin' My Time" and "I Got Rhythm," both from Girl Crazy
(1930), are miles from Broadway and more akin to an imaginary evening of "The Gershwin Brothers Revealed." The showbiz trappings of "Bidin' My Time," in particular, are stripped away and we can hear the tune as it might have been heard the first time George played it for Ira. It constitutes an ear-opening experience for any aspiring songwriter, for it disrobes the mysterious relationship between the intentions and intuition in compositions that have universal appeal.
Kellock's interpretation of "I Got Rhythm" is a very loud declaration and he goes on to justify it on this tour de force performance of Gershwin's enduring showstopper. Everyone's had a go at this one without necessarily putting that much effort into it, but Brian Kellock takes it on, turns it inside out, and makes it his own. It sounds exhausting to play the piano that way, but it is the listener who has to lie down and rest afterwards.
The standout track is Kellock's singular view of "Sunset and the Mockingbird," a piece of Ellingtonia from the "Queen's Suite"from The Ellington Suites
(Original Jazz Classics, 1976)credited to Duke, but surely hand-stitched by Billy Strayhorn
. It's played at an idle stroll that dwindles into one of those "not all who wander are lost" perambulations. It seems the kind of bittersweet tune that only the outwardly gregarious, but inwardly lonely person could compose. Somehow, Kellock brings out the heart-searching qualities in this composition, and he comes across as something of a piano-playing empath; one who understands and anticipates what listeners want to feel when they're listening one-to-one to great jazz music. Bidin' My Time
is a record for true romantics as much as it is for jazz piano fans. It does not come dripping faux sentiment, nor is it a tribute to anything other than artistic expression. It's the kind of jazz piano playing that's been around the block a few times but isn't quite readythankfullyto give up on the world. Kellock has taken this life-affirming music in his experienced hands and made a modern statement with materials from a distant, but still relevant era.