Solo piano sessions hold only a fraction of the mystique they once did in jazz. These days it’s far from uncommon for a pianist to crank out a session of him- or herself alone at the ivories, the precedence for the practice having long since been set. But back when this recently reissued Moodsville album came out, the format was still relatively fresh. The idea of an improviser left solely to his own devices at the keys carried a heavy bit of clout, as it was usually the province of such unmitigated geniuses as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk.
Red Garland’s relaxed melodic style meshes seamlessly with the credo of the Moodsville series. In fact, a session of his with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis as co-leader formed the inaugural release in the series. This date comes from a bit later, and according to the session notes engineer, Rudy Van Gelder taped enough material for two separate albums, one focusing on blues, the other on the ballads presented here. Independent of an ensemble and more specifically the Miles Davis quintet, of which he was then a member, Garland comes at the tunes with an emphasis on shading and nuance. As the only musical agents his hands are free to coax subtleties from the song structures that, as noted in the set’s liners, would likely be lost to the necessity of constant communication in the context of a combo. It’s here where this album’s quality really comes to the fore, despite what is on the surface a relatively ordinary clutch of standards.
The other feather in the session’s cap comes with Garland’s decision to stretch out nearly all of the pieces. His reading of “I Got It Bad...” clocks in at over seven minutes and all but two of the remaining tracks register at more than five. The sequencing carries the symmetry, the emphasis on slow, romance rich tempos and languorously lyrical improvisation. A gently rhapsodic rush of notes signals the entrance of “When Your Lover Has Gone” as Garland outlines the theme with brightly burnished right hand lines underscored by dusky diminishing chords from his left. “These Foolish Things” features a similar chiaroscuro preface, which swiftly transitions into a limpid exposition on the cheerful melody. Garland’s hands and fingers are once again in deceptively cunning agreement, each putting its owner’s whims into practice at the speed of thought. Also of exceptional quality is his closing rendition of “When I Fall in Love,” a tune commonly associated with Nat King Cole, one of his nascent influences.
If there are grievances to be lodged, they’re perhaps found in the steady emotional uniformity of much of the performance and the occasional slide into saccharine-sounding embroidery. But these foibles are minor when stacked against the elegance and aplomb Garland brings to his constructions. Listeners with a fondest for the pianist in the numerous group settings that form the bulk of his career would be wise to seek this disc out as evidence of his artistry outside the company of his peers.
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