Swiss pianist Stewy von Wattenwyl's fifth album for Brambus Records, is an impressively recorded studio date, which wouldn't mean much if von Wattenwyl and his colleagues were less than impressive. Happily, they are not.
Von Wattenwyl, whose reputation is growing in his own country and elsewhere, clearly has found his own voice within a framework of elegance reminiscent of contemporary masters Barry Harris, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Barron; and power that calls to mind McCoy Tyner, Mulgrew Miller and Benny Green. Several other celebrated pianists are represented on the albumThelonious Monk ("I Mean You ), Kenny Kirkland ("Dienda ), George Shearing ("Lullaby of Birdland ), Ray Bryant ("Reflection )and Stewy (pronounced Steh-vee) adds two of his stylish original compositions, "Hold My Hand and "Hellblau. Rounding out the charming program are the standards "My One and Only Love and "I'm Glad There Is You, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things, George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now and Miles Davis' "Blue in Green.
While most of the songs are familiar, von Wattenwyl manages to approach them from fresh and unexpected angles, so that boredom is never a factor (listen, for example, to his resourceful variations on "My Favorite Things" or "Lullaby of Birdland"). The rhythm sections (bassist Daniel Schläppi is present on six tracks, Reggie Johnson on five) are limited for the most part to a supporting role, one they apparently relish, giving the leader all the assurance he needs and then some. Schläppi and Johnson do solo on occasion, and when the roles are reversed, von Wattenwyl shows that he is a masterful accompanist too.
Von Wattenwyl is poised and confident at rapid tempos but really excels on the ballads, which he interprets with notable warmth, sensitivity and awareness. And he has no problem with bluesy, down-home, striding "after hours piano, as he shows on Bryant's soulful "Reflection. The finale, "I'm Glad There Is You, is set to a Latin beat reminiscent of the Ahmad Jamal Trio.
A wonderful album by an accomplished young pianist who'd be much better known and appreciated were he recording in New York City rather than Berne, Switzerland. Sound quality is beyond reproach, as is the 70:34 playing time. Easily recommended.