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Pianist Andy Fielding is a bit of a romantic with extraordinary technique and deep roots in many of the traditional resources of jazz. He brings to the music an intimate awareness of ragtime, stride, and gospel music in addition to a creative imagination that has even broader horizons. Playing For Keeps is a recent Arbors release, the 8th in their excellent solo piano series. Mr. Fielding is notable for his almost casual command of so much of what makes a pianist exceptional. He could be a flashy virtuoso if he were less of a musician, but the nuances of a phrase and the structural opportunities of a composition are his creative focus. He thinks in long, graceful lines that are rhythmically interesting, and he has patience beyond his years in the unfolding of his ideas. Perhaps, the latter has to do with a long engagement with ragtime and classical piano; in any case, it’s refreshing to hear someone who has a sense of time passing appropriate to the era of the music.
The opening track "If I Had You" is wistful, and appropriately romantic version moving in a slow, casual loping rhythm. As an introduction to Fielding it displays not only his classical technique, but also his deft left hand that at times rises out of its accompaniment mode to comment on the prevailing mood. This is a sweet, somewhat sad version that acts as an introduction to Fielding with its flashes of blues, ragtime and stride. The emotional attunement of his playing, especially the interaction of his right and left hands is noteworthy. His is a subtle, casual mastery.
Fielding jumps right into James P. Johnson’s stride classic "Carolina Shout" with grace and style, playing it at a medium tempo with humor and a jaunty confidence. His version of Hoagy Carmichael’s "New Orleans" opens in a dreamy, bluesy mood that swirls in a slow round of nostalgia. Fielding’s version of Dave McKenna’s "Cat’s Cradle" is simply beautiful, a fine tribute to a great pianist, and an acknowledged Fielding influence. Other outstanding tracks include Fielding’s rag composition "A Ride On The River" and a rousing gospel/stride version of Johnny Guarnieri’s "The Gospel Truth."
The highlight of this long set is "A Night in Tunisia" that opens with the famous staccato melody statement, but Fielding underpins it with a hint of a stride bass foreshadowing later developments. Fielding demonstrates that he can be at home in the angular, descending world of modern jazz. Then about midway through, the melody is unraveled and reconceived as a stride statement with the bass line rising out into the open. This is dramatic shift - bebop into full stride - until the bop melody gracefully returns shifting the performance toward the opening mood, but with a less insistent tone. This is exciting jazz, doing what its supposed to do, creative and intensely alive.
Track Listing: If I Had You; One Note Samba; Stardust; Freda With The Naturally Curly Hair; A Ride On The River; Carolina Shout; New Orleans Medley - New Orleans, They All Ask
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.