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Martial Solal is a nuclear physicist of the piano. He tinkers with the subatomic structure of compositions, moving elements around, pulling them apart, and smashing them together in ways that both surprise and delight. Solal was born Algiers in 1927, settling in Paris in 1950 where he worked with Django Reinhardt and American expatriates Sidney Bechet and Don Byas. He has maintained an impressive creative profile for the past 50 years that involves solo, small group, and big band formats. Solal has also been a successful movie soundtrack composer, producing music for Les Acteurs (2000) and Ballade a blanc (1983).
Now in his 80s, his performances take on the aire of a grand event. As such, it is fitting that his October 12, 2007 solo appearance at New York City's Village Vanguard was captured and released as Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything But Love. His previous live recording at the Vanguard, NY1: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 2003) was met with much adulation as was the show that generated it in the wake of September 11, 2001.
Relaxed and amiable, Solal banters with the crowd in his French-accented English, explaining that they both must be good as he is making a live recording. He then proceeds to stroll through a recital of seven standards are two original compositions in what can only be described as in a very post-modern, deconstructionist manner. His command of the material is paradoxically dense and atomized with playing that betrays a knowledge of all styles of jazz piano, which he picks and chooses to employ at his creative whim. That "whim" is very informed. "On Green Dolphin Street?" he turns the familiar melody inside out, re- harmonizing and redefining the piece well beyond its early 20th Century origins.
Solal transforms the interrogative "Lover Man" into a declarative statement of fact and strains the brains of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" through modernity's defining sieve, exposing all of the soft underparts Monk didn't. Solal extends the language of Monk further than any other pianist. His two original compositions, "Centre De Gravite" and "Ramage" are no less compelling, acting as an extension of Solal's artistic command. Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything But Love is as perfect a jazz recording as we could hope for. Few giants remain, so let us honor Martial Solal.
Track Listing: Intro 1; On Green Dolphin Street; Lover Man; I Can't Give You Anything
But Love; Centre De Gravite; Ramage; 'Round Midnight; Have You Met
Miss Jones; The Last Time I Saw Paris; Intro 2; Corcovado.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.