From time to time Red Garland would do something new in his long series of albums, injecting some variety into his classic formula. Sometimes it was an added musician, or there’d be a “theme” album like WHEN THERE ARE GREY SKIES, full of old tunes like “St. James Infirmary”. This is one of the latter – an all-ballad set. Considering how lyrical Red was, this was a natural, although he only did it a couple of times (the others were for the Moodsville label.) With a new trio (Larry Ridley and Frank Gant, later to appear on Red’s album Solar>), Red goes through the old standards with his typical charm, including a solo performance of “Lush Life”. This is another natural – like Red himself.
The theme to “Why Was I Born?” is played entirely with block chords, something he rarely did. As the echo blankets him, he’ll sometimes lift the sustain pedal, and that brings the backing into sharp focus. Ridley’s part is quite prominent; his notes boom and he walks forcefully. Red’s solo starts bluesy, with pensive notes; here too the chords creep back, and before we know it we’re back on the theme, with a nice downward stagger of notes as it comes to a close.
The brushes rain quietly and the notes comes slowly on “The Nearness of You.” Red always had a way of sounding lonely in his single-note playing; this contrasts well with the block chords, which we hear at the end of the theme. Ridley gets the first solo, and it’s pretty busy, suggesting power as Red’s comping comes soft. Red’s own solo is also aggressive, and returns to chords just before the theme. As it closes, Red hits a succession of high notes that sound like chimes, and the “familiar “big finish” comes in an unfamiliar way.
Time is suspended as “Where or When” begins. It’s very slow, with the left hand doing most of the work. The high notes are scattered, and it takes a while to recognize the melody. The pace picks up a little, and Red gets more forceful. When at last we hear the full theme, we get it in chords, an unexpected struttin’ finish, and some busy tinkling in Red’s solo. The cymbals rumble sharply; Gant using them more than most Garland drummers; with the brushes the rumbling sound is doubled. A minuet-like figure runs down the keys as Red and Frank bring it home together.
“Long Ago and Far Away” begins much as the last did, the wistful notes coming singly and slowly forming a song. The closing theme is clever: while left hand chords heavy and hard, right hand pecks out the notes as it did before, giving you loud and soft at once. Red next gives a wink at his successor with Miles Davis: he quotes “Peace Piece” while opening “I Got it Bad”. The pace is up, with lush highlights on the last section of theme. Gant’s brushes are quite loud, the sound swelling and receding much like Garland drummer Arthur Taylor. Red’s solo gets downright giddy, with a rapid fire of fluttering notes. It’s a nice build-up to a nice finish, with some bowing by Ridley.
“Lush Life” opens with the theme – but wait a minute. After four measures Red goes to the verse, and plays it with feeling, heavy chords, and high notes. The verse ends on an atmospheric note, around a pulsing low rumble. The tune itself is properly lush, but block chords are at a minimum. We hear tremolos, Peterson-like runs, and quiet moments right at the end. It’s a great performance, and a rigorous change of pace.
Following this solo piece, we get “All Alone”, played by the trio. The opening is marvelously lonely, with Red hanging on the notes and the rhythm pushing him on. Theme and solo go on their way, and it ends with some great happy conventional chords; it’s perhaps the best ending of the set. And there you have it: nothing but Red Garland ballads. Sometimes that’s all you need.