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Solo Piano: Andy Laverne, Peter Zak, Michel Petrucciani, Joe Albany

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Andy Laverne
Time to Dream
Steeplechase
2007


Peter Zak
My Conception
Steeplechase
2007


Michel Petrucciani
Oracle's Destiny
Owl-Sunnyside
2007


Joe Albany
Epiphany
Blue Jack Jazz
2007




Two of these piano recitals are new and two are from decades past, but they all share lyricism and intelligence as keynotes.

Andy Laverne's Time to Dream reveals how comfortable he is in the solo spotlight. The music is delicately nuanced and smartly shaded and the compositions take on an almost classical sense of architecture. Laverne is deft at the keys but always in the service of the music. He opens with a quietly bold statement in "Ellipsis , in which an almost oriental fanfare theme introduces a Laverne method: "When I have completed a tune, he says, "I immediately improvise on it and stay with the form. Laverne sees these 16 tunes as fitting together and each as almost growing from the one before it. One would think that this would make for a kind of sameness but what happens is that myriad colors go into making one overall mood. It works and is subtly funny and intensely gorgeous too — as in the pulse of "Wireless Caller and the dark 'Eastern' majesty of "Ground Lifter . And the set even ends with a smart and wry paean — "Bootleg Bill . Time to Dream is proof that Laverne doesn't need to bootleg anyone — he is and always has been his own man.

At the beginning of Peter Zak's My Conception, a listener might suspect that he had wandered into the Laverne recording session — the opener, "Shala , is a mysterious and gorgeous sound poem that reflects intense personal feelings — but as the disc goes on, the pianist reveals all this but other different things too. He plays several of his own tunes but also interprets music of Cal Massey, Blue Mitchell, Sonny Clark, Richard Rodgers, Cy Coleman, Dietz & Schwartz and Joe Henderson. These interpretations have a bit more 'typical' jazz and blues development but what links them to Laverne is the keen sense of articulation and intelligent sense of building an improvisation. Zak clearly loves the music — his take on Sonny Clark's "My Conception is stunning in its passion for the original lyricism of the composer as well as its 21st century stark beauty.

The late Michel Petrucciani — he died in 1999 at age 36 — paid homage to Bill Evans but he did it with seemingly boundless grace and eternal freshness. The recently-issued Oracle's Destiny is a tribute to Evans that is not slavish or dangerously imitative but rather expansive, impressionistic and original. It was recorded in 1983 on a big gorgeous Bosendorfer piano and is music that Petrucciani hoped could "save the world . Five compositions work together to form a kind of suite that suggests Debussy, the aforementioned Mr. Evans and, possibly, the gods of love. The title tune, which opens the album, is a ten-minute reflection on the piano and its expressive capabilities. The second tune, "Big Sur, Big On , is a kind of hymn to the hoped-for peace of California and it ends up being a brief and tender poem that never really rises above a sweet whisper. "Amalgame seems to get down with an almost blues-like feeling but because it's combined with Petrucciani's sense of lyricism and design it moves differently. It's hip and in a groove but it also fills the world with beauty.

Imagine that you were going through the belongings of a dear departed relative and you found some tapes that you never knew existed. Imagine the surprise when these tapes contained music recorded at the piano there in the house and showed your relative to be an accomplished and entertaining pianist.

Here are 13 performances done in the home of Joe Albany, known by aficionados but otherwise somewhat overlooked. They're recorded on a piano that has seen better days but can't really hide the fact that it's being played by a master. Albany was one of those California beboppers who ran afoul of the law and lived overseas for some time before returning to his home state in the mid '70s. He had been 'discovered' in England by Spotlite Records and those in the know realized that he had absorbed Tatum and Wilson and Armstrong, but was also later very taken with Bud Powell. All of that shows up in what was meant to be a rehearsal for a new solo recording. The playing is rich and rhapsodic and the man could truly ring endless changes on any number and kind of tunes. He digs into Gershwin and Waller and plays them as if at a classical recital. His originals reveal a smart colorist who loved to play. And then hear what he does with bop tunes. Dizzy's "Woody and You sounds here like a Tatum-esque bopper — not at all a contradiction in terms. And Bird's "Au Privave is a crazy knockout — virtuosic and rhythmically playful.


Tracks and Personnel

Time to Dream

Tracks: Ellipsis; Truth Be Told; Hard Finish; Face Value; After the Fact; Guaranteed Overnight Delivery; Wireless Caller; Ground Lifter; Start to Finish; Time to Dream; Duplicity; Year from Yesterday; Jazz Country; Fair & Balanced; Sixth Sense; Bootleg Bill.

Personnel: Andy Laverne: piano

My Conception

Tracks: Shala; These Are Soulful Days; Mahmoud's Memory; Fungii Mama; Propinquity; Circling Columbus; My Conception; The Camel; Witchcraft; With A Song In My Heart; Serenity; By Myself.

Personnel: Peter Zak: piano

Oracle's Delight

Tracks: Reflection; Sugar Ray; Solitaire; After Hours; Sneakin' Around; Our Delight.

Personnel: Michel Petrucciani: piano

Epiphany

Tracks: They Can't Take That Away From Me; Jitterbug Waltz; Old, Old Friends; Lush Life/ Woody N' You; For Heaven's Sake; Bluebird; There's No Greater Love; How Deep Is The Ocean; Our Love Is Here To Stay; Slow Blues In F; Au Privave; Sweet And Lovely; Joe's Valediction.

Personnel: Joe Albany: piano


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