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Ralph Sutton with Michael Silva: It's So Nice It Must Be Illegal: Recorded 1988 Live in France (Volume One)

Eric J. Iannelli By

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Since he was born in Hamburg, Missouri in 1922, it's apt in a way that stride pianist Ralph Sutton should have this posthumous album released on a Hamburg label—this one is the original, so to speak, located a few thousand miles away in the north of Germany. As Sutton aficionados will be quick to point out, this is not his first disc to appear on Nagel Heyer. Nor will it be the last. That "Volume One" tacked promisingly on the end of the title indicates that another will follow in due course.

Recorded on November 27, 1988 at Espace Jean Vilar in Amilly, France, a full thirteen years before Sutton's death, this live set takes its title from one of the pianist's many pet quotes from his musical model Fats Waller, gleefully exclaimed between songs during the concert. One of the more interesting factual tidbits about this set is not the number of "Wallerisms," however, or the number of featured tracks penned by Waller himself (three out of nine), but that Sutton had never played with Michael Silva, erstwhile drummer for Sammy Davis, Jr., before this very evening.

Despite their acquaintance only "a few minutes ago," as Sutton jokes in his introduction, the pair do have quite an enviable rapport, responding well to one another's musical signals and catching abrupt stops. Silva gets the knocks and ticks just right on the more burlesque numbers, though a determined ear will catch an occasional moment or two of hesitation and uncertainty. On "Love Lies" it takes a bit of experimentation for Silva to find his preferred beat. What really comes through, though, is the profound joy the two musicians have to be playing this particular type of music together in that particular place in front of that particular crowd. When the two of them nail the closing bars of the excellent "Echoes of Spring," a Sutton favorite, or dig into a delightful swing as on "My Blue Heaven," "S'posin'," and "Honeysuckle Rose," their shared jubilation is palpable. The mid-song audience applause on "Heaven" confirms as much.

Stylistically Sutton can err on the prettified side at times, the flowery lead-in to Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" being a perfect example; and his Keith Jarrett/Glenn Gould habit of mumbling and groaning along with the music is captured here like a third instrument. "Everything Happens to Me" and "My Blue Heaven" both sound as if Frankenstein has contributed a guest vocal. But these are not technical or interpretational flaws so much as they are idiosyncrasies that fans may find it easy to overlook.

Sutton was and still is generally regarded as the leading post-war proponent of rollicking, swinging, stride piano, and this delightful concert date, while not perfect, offers many fine reasons why—the brilliant Duke Ellington medley foremost among them.

Track Listing: 1. Introduction by Ralph Sutton (0:26); 2. Honeysuckle Rose (5:58); 3. Love Lies (5:42); 4. Echoes of Spring (5:43); 5. Everything Happens to Me (4:57); 6. My Blue Heaven (4:28); 7. Medley: Squeeze Me, Ain

Personnel: Ralph Sutton (piano, vocals); Michael Silva (drums)

Title: It's So Nice It Must Be Illegal: Recorded 1988 Live in France (Volume One) | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Nagel Heyer Records


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