Pianist Roger Kellaway can swing hard and has played with everyone from Sonny Rollins to Joni Mitchell. His knowledge of music is encyclopedic and his pianism is instantly recognizable for its airy, sparkling quality, flowing from a singular skill he has to incorporate stride, swing, boogie and more into something totally modern. Long an in-demand sideman, Kellaway has too rarely recorded fronting his own group. Which brings us to the happy occasion of this live 2006 Jazz Standard set with his "East Coast group" (he also maintains a "West Coast group").
The opener here is Duke Ellington's "Cottontail," on which Kellaway exhibits finger-twisting runs in company with Stefon Harris guesting on vibes. It's a breathtaking turn that leads into yet more Ellington joy with "C Jam Blues" on which Russell Malone's guitar propels even more non-stop swinging.
If further evidence was needed of Kellaway's diversity, the Russian classical cellist Borislav Strulev joins the festivities for the leader's "All My Life." The chamber-style duet is as deep and passionate as it is resonant. Kellaway's approach to Dave Brubeck's hit, Paul Desmond's "Take Five" begins lightly and gently skipping; he seamlessly shifts from soft to emphatic chords and, with Jay Leonhart's bass and Malone's guitar, builds to a bedazzling crescendo of fresh possibilities. This is followed by a sweet meditation on "The Nearness of You" joined by Malone and Harris.
Pushing musical explorations even further, the second disc opens with "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"? Who knew? It's just further proof of Kellaway's ability to unearth fresh rhythms and find unlikely places in which to swing. Turning to the more familiar jazz terrain of Redman-Gilbert's "Cherry," Kellaway recalls the hard swinging sound of the early Nat King Cole Trio. On the closer, Monk's "52nd Street Theme," all hands cut loose to go way past the speed limit. When they called this a "live set" they weren't kidding.
CD1: Cottontail; C Jam Blues; Someday My Prince Will Come; All My Life; I'm Beginning to See the Light; Take Five; The Nearness of You; Doxy. CD2: Tumbling Tumbleweeds; Cherry; You Don't Know What Love Is; Freddie Freeloader; 52nd Street Theme.
Roger Kellaway: piano; Russell Malone: guitar; Stefon Harris: vibes; Jay Leonhart: bass; Borislav Strulev: cello.