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First, a confession. There are a handful of contemporary Jazz pianists I could listen to all night without the least trace of boredom or fatigue. Oscar Peterson, of course. Kenny Barron. Barry Harris. Oliver Jones. Billy Taylor. And Tommy Flanagan — which should give the reader an inkling of how I feel about Tommy’s Blue Note debut, Sunset and the Mocking Bird, recorded on his 67th birthday at New York City’s Village Vanguard. This is a trio session, and what a marvelous trio it is, with Washington and Nash among the most accomplished and empathetic teammates in the business. With no need to worry about the supporting cast (who’ve been reading his mind for more than seven years), Flanagan is free — with their unflagging help — to create wonderful music, which he does throughout this invigorating evening of tasteful and swinging Jazz. As I’ve said before, Nash — who plays with more authority here than in many studio sessions — is one of my favorite small–group drummers (superb with brushes or sticks) while Washington is an industrious timekeeper and inventive soloist who never gives Flanagan even fleeting cause for concern. The varied and interesting program is a strong point, with compositions by Thad Jones (“Birdsong,” “Let’s”), Dizzy Gillespie (“I Waited for You,” “Tin Tin Deo”), Ellington (“Sunset and the Mocking Bird,” from The Queen’s Suite), Tom McIntosh (“With Malice Toward None,” the medley “Balanced Scales/The Cupbearers”) and a lovely closing Mack Gordon/Harry Revel ballad, “Good Night My Love” (followed by an exuberant chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” from the appreciative audience). As he nears 70, Tommy Flanagan, like fine wine, becomes more pleasurable and venerated with each passing day. He plays with warmth, vigor, soul, an unerring sense of rhythm and dynamics, and any other ingredient one could wish for in a Jazz pianist. His five Grammy nominations, Jazzpar award, NEA Jazz Master award and poll–winning history attest to that. In sum, this is an outstanding session by one of the world's foremost craftsmen of the keyboard with superior sound quality and nearly 70-minute playing time as bonuses.
Track listing: Birdsong; With Malice Toward None; Let’s; I Waited for You; Tin Tin Deo; Sunset and the Mockingbird; The Balanced Scales/The Cupbearers; Good Night My Love (69:44).
Tommy Flanagan, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Lewis Nash, drums
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.