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Various Artists: Memphis Piano Convention

Wayne Zade By

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This collection of solo piano performances pre-dates two releases by the Contemporary Piano Ensemble, aka the Phineas Newborn, Jr. Project, who perform in unison with a rhythm section. Memphis Piano Convention features the impressions of six pianists from Memphis, Newborn's hometown, who either studied with or were influenced by him: James Williams, Donald Brown, Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern, Charles Thomas, and Russell Wilson. Each performs one or two pieces closely associated with Newborn in tribute to the pianist Williams calls "arguably the most underrated artist in the history of jazz."

Newborn's bright, bluesy, fluent, and florid style can be said to be in evidence in almost every one of these performances, yet each pianist clearly remains his own man. Because they are not as widely recorded or known as the others, Thomas and Wilson are pleasant surprises here. Wilson devoted himself to teaching, first at Memphis State and then a Virginia Commonwealth, and Thomas was a mainstay in Memphis clubs. Wilson's performance of of "Sonatine" by Ravel demonstrates the affinity between that composer and modern jazz players.

Williams' eloquent liner notes mention an honor roll of pianists' names in passing, from Ahmad Jamal (hear Donald Brown's version of "Poinciana") to Ellington (hear Thomas's "What Am I Here For?"). There's a buoyant sense of celebration of jazz piano in all its forms on this disc. The recording is not easy to locate, but well worth the trouble. And after you find it, you can start looking for Memphis Convention, with the same pianists and reed and horn players and a rhythm section. Memphis should be famous for more than Elvis.

Track Listing: Poinciana; What Am I Here For?, Sonatine (Minuet), Sweet Lorraine, The Second Time Around, Little Niles," Just As I Am, Dancing on the Ceiling, The Sphinx, For Carl


Title: Memphis Piano Convention | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: DIW


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