Sunday, August 3, 2008

Maybeck Recital Hall: Treasure Hunt - Part 3

Steven Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Although Carl Jefferson [the owner of Concord Records] is listed as the producer for all of the Maybeck Recital Hall solo piano recordings, and deservedly so, the series would not have materialized as it did without the loving devotion of Dick Whittington and his partner Marilyn Ross. Aside from Whittington being the originator of the project in the first place, both he and Ms. Ross assumed some producer-related functions throughout the seven years of its duration.

From the start, all three of these principals had to deal with many unusual demands and requirements as these 42 performances were both miniature concerts, as well as, recording sessions.

The combination of performing before only 60 or so invitees and the relatively small and intimate nature of the hall itself combined to create an almost recording-studio quality for each of these recitals. This combination also places some unusual demands on the solo Jazz pianist who on the one hand doesn’t have the ‘luxury’ of watching his miscues and failed experiments go up in vapor, nor conversely, the ability to have a recorded performance played back and re-done before a publicly acceptable version is decided upon by the artist.

So not only do we have 42 pianists performing in a largely unaccustomed or, at least, infrequent solo piano setting, which is challenging under the best of conditions, but each had to do it in front of a very small, discerning audience while being recorded with no chance to correct their mistakes with re-takes afterwards!

When Bill Weilbacher began producing his Master Jazz Recordings in 1967 [see Mosaic Records – The Complete Master Jazz Piano Series – MD4-140] he described the following as the ideal circumstances for the role of the producer.

“What was evident in the studio in every recording session is that playing the piano alone is hard work. When you play solo piano there is really no place to hide. There is a fundamental difference between recording and playing live before an audience. There is no necessity to be a persona in the recording studio, nor to entertain an audience­. What is necessary is to do the job right. Because the job that must be done night will be played back for all to hear moments after the performance Is completed, and then, if released, heard by many others, the recording takes on an intensity and a seriousness that are different in kind from public performances. The recording becomes a permanent record of the performers work and, since these artists earn their living by playing piano, the recordings are extremely important to them.

No matter how we romanticize our jazz performers and their work, watching them in a recording studio gives a new and quite different view of how they earn their living.”

Unfortunately, in terms of the distinctions that Mr. Weilbacher draws between live performances and the recording studio, there’s was no such luck as far as the Maybeck Recital Hall project was concerned, both for the producers and for the performers.

Given the lack of these conditions for Carl Jefferson, Dick Whittington, and Marilyn Ross and the pianists who performed these solo recitals, it is a testimony to the creative and artistic talents and skills of all concerned how well these performances turned out.

The Jazzprofiles editorial staff has been pleased to present this overview of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and hopes that the reader will seek out some, if not all of the previously reviewed 28 solo piano recordings in the series as well as the following 14 that conclude this review of the Maybeck Recital Hall solo piano series on Concord.

[For some additional insights into the piano in the Jazz tradition in general, and solo piano recitals at Maybeck in particular, see Gene Lees’ opening remarks in the insert notes to Don Friedman’s performance as contained under # 33 below].

Volume 29 – John Campbell [CCD-4581]
“A grand piano and a grand pianist in the most intimate setting: the combination of these elements has placed the Maybeck Recital Hall series among the most respected undertakings in modern jazz. But while the piano and the hall remain impressive constants, the pianist John Campbell may need some introduction.

Yes, he has appeared on albums by Clark Terry and Mel Torme and the Terry Gibbs-Buddy DeFranco band; and yes, he has even released two previous dates under his own name. But in the first 30 years of his life, John Campbell followed a path familiar enough to students of jazz history, perfecting his art in the quiet and undemanding surroundings of the Midwest - as a child and college boy in southern Illinois, and then as a local legend on Chicago's savvy jazz scene - before heading east for greater exposure and acclaim. As a result, even some of the more knowledgeable followers of jazz have yet to discover his galvanic approach to the jazz tradition.

For the best introduction to Campbell, though, turn to the music - in particular, his spectacular romp on the bebop warhorse Just Friends, which opens this album. Without fuss, he quickly introduces a surprising and invigorating touch by transposing keys midway through the first chorus, and then follows that pattern throughout the song, rocking between those two tonal centers. Clever, but not smug. Upon this skeleton he drapes an improvisation filled with delightful riffs and fragments that maintain their own structural integrity - such as the ascending triplet figure that first surfaces at the end of the fourth chorus, only to re-emerge as a full-fledged melodic device leading from the fifth to the sixth.

Many listeners resist that kind of micromanaged analysis of the music they enjoy. And with Campbell, you can easily just settle back while the music carries you on its journey, happy to close your eyes and absorb the picaresque sweep of his soloing. But you do so at the risk of missing so many remarkable details. The surprising twist in a smoothly skimming melodic line, for instance. Those lightning transpositions of key. The brilliantly inserted sequence. The sudden explosion of doubled time, as if the improvised passage had built up enough tension to override the safety valve of musical meter.

Despite his other musical gifts, John Campbell is first and foremost a melodist, his music dominated by the eastern half of the piano keyboard. …” Neil Tesser

Volume 30 – Ralph Sutton [CCD-4586]
“….Fats Waller was an early idol, though Ralph says regretfully "I never saw him in person, but of course I was aware of his career on records." (Waller died when Ralph was 11.) Honeysuckle Rose includes the verse and eventually moves into stride. Although Ralph has a reputation built largely on his proficiency in ragtime and stride, he is in fact an allaround pianist whose expertise extends to the classics.

His range becomes evident as he moves from Fats Waller to Bix Beiderbecke, whose In A Mist he has interpreted for years with flawless fidelity. "I was working with Teagarden when Jack sent me over to Robbins Music to pick up a Bix folio. That was the first I knew of his compositions. I still have that folio."

Ralph returns to Waller with Clothes Line Ballet, a delightful work which Fats recorded in 1934. "1 first heard Fats when I was nine. I bought a folio of his tunes too."

In The Dark is one of the piano pieces written but never recorded by Beiderbecke. It has the same haunting quality and harmonic subtlety that marked all of Rix's works, which were decades ahead of their time.

Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' is a melodic Waller marvel that made its debut in the revue "Connie's Hot Chocolates" in 1929. Again Ralph includes the verse, with its unpredictable harmonic line.

Echo of Spring is the most attractive of the many works left us by Willie "The Lion" Smith. Both Ralph and I recall sitting beside the Lion as he played this elegant work and following its beautiful melodic contours. That rolling left hand is an essential part of its charm, which of course Ralph retains.

Dinah, a pop hit of the 1920s, has touches of the Lion in Ralph's performance. Love Lies is probably the most obscure song in this set; Ralph learned about it during his Teagarden days. It was written by one W. Dean Rogers in 1923.

Russian Lullaby is simply a song Ralph heard around. "I never saw the music on this one. Who wrote it? Irving Berlin? No kidding - I didn't know that."

St. Louis Blues was the most famous of the W.C. Handy blues series.. Written in 1914, it starts as a regular 12 bar blues before moving into a 16 bar minor strain. Sutton starts with a series of dramatic tremolos, then takes it at an easy lope.

Viper's Drag finds Ralph again retaining the spirit of Fats Waller in a 1934 tune, the title of which was an early term for a pot smoker. It's one of Fats's relatively few numbers in a minor key.

Finally there is After You've Gone, which goes all the way back to 1918 and was originally played, as I recall, in the slow tempo with which Ralph introduces it, as a 20 bar chorus. Later he shifts gears into the now more generally accepted long-meter, 40 bar treatment.” – Leonard Feather

Volume 31 – Fred Hersch [CCD-4596] Describing music -any music -is largely a bureaucratic function. It involves categories and qualifications, not to mention paperwork. This is especially true of jazz, for which tradition lends heft to files marked "swing" and "bebop."

A higher ideal, and a truer litmus test, is improvisation. At best, the musical improviser frees us from our baggage, so we are free to explore new worlds. Pianist Fred Hersch has always recognized this truth, and that recognition combined with virtuosic technical skills - has been a liberating force fueling the development of his sound.

"When I'm playing music that I connect with," Hersch says, "the form and the changes don't limit me, they inspire me to say something original and personal." These statements have taken shape in a wide variety of settings (from jazz trio to classical orchestra) and across a broad sweep of musical territory (from Cole Porter to Scriabin to Monk, for instance). "When I play in a group, I choose musicians who will surprise me."

When the opportunity to record this live solo album arose, Hersch knew he'd need to surprise himself. Before sitting down at the grand piano beneath the wood and leaded glass of Maybeck Hall, he announced to the audience that "half of the tunes I'll play are songs I know intimately, the other half are songs I don't know that well." With that, Fred Hersch took his place alongside the thirty distinguished pianists already documented in this series. …. This was his first solo recording. – Larry Blumenfield

Volume 32 – Sir Roland Hanna [CCD-4604]
Volume Thirty-Two of Berkeley's Maybeck Recital Hall series - Concord's exalted project of recording under optimum conditions those "Poets of the Piano" mostly confined to minor labels - is the summing up of Sir Roland Hanna's career that spans nearly four decades.

This album is Sir Roland's life: the sanctified church, rhythm n' blues, classic piano literature, the grand Romantic tradition of the 19th Century, French impressionism, ragtime, Harlem stride, Tatum, bebop, Garner, the Blues, funk, avant-garde, and the explosion of song-writing genius that blessed America in the Twenties and Thirties. More than half the Maybeck recital affirms Sir Roland's love affair with George Gershwin.

What is most immediate in this recital is Sir Roland's uncanny sense of structure, his flair for drama and for breathtaking climax. Each number unfolds as a completely realized composition. A consummate mastery of the keyboard permits his fertile imagination and puckish wit to run riot. – Grover Sales

Volume 33 – Don Friedman [CCD-4608]
The keyboards are unique in the family of instruments. Keyboard instruments can function alone. So can the guitar, but in a more limited way, and keyboards, including harpsichord and organ and, later, the piano, have dominated Western music since before baroque times. Since Mozart's time, the piano has been the king of these instruments. All other instruments have an essentially ensemble character: they need friends around them to fill out the harmony. Piano doesn't.

If you listen to early jazz records, you will find that when it came to allowing the pianist a solo - Earl Hines, for example - no one knew how to go about it. So everybody stops playing while the pianist does his thing.

Eventually the piano was absorbed into the jazz ensemble by limiting the way the pianist played. But pianists can do much more than they are usually called upon to do in jazz. Secretly, Oscar Peterson has suggested, they dream of going out there and doing it alone instead of comping chords for horn players.

In 1989, JoAnne Brackeen was about to do a solo performance at Maybeck Hall, a small and exquisite location in Berkeley, California, with an excellent piano. She called Carl Jefferson to ask that he record it. Fortunately for the world, he did, and the resulting album became the first of a remarkable series of Maybeck Hall recordings.

The series has become a singular documentation of the state of jazz piano in our time. Carl has not-so-slowly been documenting in sound the astonishingly rich state of jazz piano as our century nears its end. He has let this brilliant body of pianists go into a sympathetic hall and show just what it is they can do when they play solo.

It is helpful to picture the room. It is not large; indeed it seats only about 50 persons. Those in the front row are very close to the player; there is no sense of distance between the performer and the audience. The room is beautifully wood-paneled and its acoustic properties are outstanding.

Don Friedman's is the 33rd in this series of Maybeck Hall recordings, and he reacted like everyone else before him.

"I loved the room and I loved the piano," he said. "And the audience was wonderful. I couldn't have been more comfortable."

Then, too, for Don it was a bit of a homecoming. Though he lives in New York City, he is a Bay Area boy, having been born in San Francisco in 1935.

The term "under-appreciated" gets worn with time, but there are few musicians it fits more accurately than Don. He has worked with an amazingly disparate group of jazz players, from Dexter Gordon to Buddy DeFranco, from Shorty Rogers to Ornette Coleman. He worked with Pepper Adams, Booker Little, Jimmy Giuffre, Attila Zoller, Chuck Wayne, and Clark Terry. That is flexibility, not to mention versatility. Yet this is not widely appreciated. …

If Don is indeed, as many musicians think, under-recognized, this latest album in the distinguished Maybeck Hall series should help correct this. - Gene Lees

Volume 34 – Kenny Werner [CCD-4622]
"I try to be prepared for whatever comes through me," Werner explained. "The purpose of the concert is to get to what I call an ecstatic space. Hindus call it shakti, and Bill Evans called it the universal mind."

And it's just that search for what Werner calls the ecstatic, in every concert, that draws listeners to jazz. It's that state that sets apart most of the musicians idolized today - Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk among them - not because of great virtuosity or even technique, but because they played themselves or were able to tap into that state beyond the notes. Somewhere between the discipline of technique, the structure of arrangements, and the freedom of improvisation, magic happens, and when it's over both musician and listener have taken a journey into the realm of possibilities, one that makes the everyday world seem different when they return.

That is what much of Werner's Maybeck concert was about. Trying to create a situation where the inspiration or spirit can come and work through the music.

Regardless, the choice of tunes, and Werner's approach that afternoon, led to purely beautiful music.

Sitting in casual street clothes at the Yamaha grand piano, Werner cut a figure like that of a young J.S. Bach, his large frame upright at the stool, head tilted slightly upward, ponytail hanging down his back, eyes closed as his face filled with changing expressions, as if he were unaware of other listeners, and just playing for his own pleasure. – Larry Kelp

Volume 35 – George Cables [CCD-4630] So often in jazz, pianists - like bassists and drummers -are workhorses, tirelessly providing the harmonic spine for horn players or a singer, bolstering the front-liners by fleshing out a rhythm section's sound, then occasionally delivering a solo.

Some pianists are fortunate enough to sidestep this quandary, either by focusing on the trio format, or on even smaller configurations that allow for substantial freedom: the duo, or simply solo piano.

In this regard, the continuing series of solo recordings made in the small but impressive Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California are of great significance. Carl Jefferson, Concord Jazz' founder and president, has, to date, given close to 40 pianists the opportunity to explore the unlimited possibilities presented when performing unaccompanied.

George Cables is a 50-year-old pianist who makes the most of what could rightly be called The Maybeck Experience. A mercurial artist who has been active as a jazzman since he was 18, Cables possesses a distinctive style that has been deeply influenced by the weighty touch and chordal whammy of Thelonious Monk and the fleet line motion associated with Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Herbie Hancock.

Acclaimed for his work with Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Art Pepper, Bobby Hutcherson and Bebop and Beyond, Cables thrives in the unadorned setting of Maybeck, and his robust, lively sound has been captured as never before. He fully exploits the potential for harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic freedom that exists when the piano is the sole instrument, stretching bar-lines here to elongate phrases and ideas, cinching sections there up for more compact statements, making the tunes ebb and flow as they become truly personal performances.

This is an album of gems. – Zan Stewart

Volume 36 – Toshiko Akiyoshi [CCD-4635]
This latest recording stands out for a number of reasons. One is that it was recorded live - as Toshiko recently said to me, "'s a one-shot deal, you take a chance, but it's exciting."

Another is her choice of material, which is always tasteful and provocative. Here she digs up a few gems that others have often ignored, such as Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's The Things We Did Last Summer, and It Was a Very Good Year - the Ervin Drake ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra, but who would have imagined it as a vehicle for a brilliant jazz solo? Toshiko's interpretation of it here is positively majestic, with a wonderful funky stop time section in the middle, and a powerfully rhythmic left hand.

Speaking of that left hand, I can't say enough about how beautifully Toshiko uses it in conjunction with her right one throughout the Maybeck concert. The opener, her own spirited composition The Village, features a fiendishly complex rhythmic figure in her left hand that makes the piece sound like a four-handed piano duet; then that impressive left hand pops up again on the driving bass line on Harburg and Lane's Old Devil Moon, on her charming composition Quadrille, Anyone?, and on Dizzy Gillespie's Con Alma, where her left hand becomes the creator of melodic lines, with the right hand joining in for a smashing finale. Most impressive is Bud Powell's challenging Tempus Fugit, with Toshiko tackling it for the first time as a solo piece, and mastering it unequivocally. "I tried to make something a little different from the traditional solo piano concert," she told me.

The ballads - Ellington's Sophisticated Lady and Come Sunday, The Things We Did Last Summer and Polka Dots and Moonbeams, are treated with a deft touch and a sharp ear for color and mood. Toshiko slides in and out of a comfortable stride, weaving melodies with her right hand, and now and then her left hand jumps out of its role as bass and time keeper to create a melody of its own.

Best of all, Toshiko plays the whole piano here, using it as an orchestra. She finds a neat balance between sections which have been thoughtfully worked out and the more open passages. I like to leave some parts really loose. Sometimes the audience helps me to do something I hadn't thought of before," she said. – Amy Duncan

Volume 37 – John Colianni [CCD-4643]
It's considered improper to give away the ending in movies, but in this recording the key to the whole album is in the relationship between the last two tunes. After the misleading setup of Tea for Two with its carefree swing rendering the listener safe and defenseless, John Colianni then slips into the dark melancholia of Gordon Jenkins' ballad, Goodbye, and concludes with the late grunge-rock star Kurt Cobain's Heart Shaped Box. Totally unexpected. And utterly devastating in its impact.

Colianni has built his reputation as a talented young pianist who has embraced and mastered jazz's pre-bebop era styles and mindset. He was 3 1 at the time he performed in front of an attentive audience at Berkeley's Maybeck Recital Hall. He had been playing with the greats since, as a teenager, he joined Lionel Hampton's band, later recording two band albums as a leader for Concord Jazz, and spending the post four years accompanying Mel Torm6 on a hundred or more dates a year. And here he was playing a Nirvana song as if it were meant to be part of the Great American Songbook. Which, in the Colianni context, is exactly where it belongs.

"The Gordon Jenkins song defines the mood of longing," Colianni explains. "It's got a haunting lyric and melodic quality. And Kurt Cobain's piece has those same qualities. It ascends in two lines together that then split and go in different directions, into a moody harmonic thing that speaks bittersweetness and longing. Those two pieces belong together. They're a perfect complement bringing out the same essence in different ways."

Colianni was watching MTV one night and saw Nirvana performing Heart Shaped Box, "and I thought 'This is great!' I bought the cassette and took it to listen to while I was on tour. Then I played my version on WNYC (the New York University radio station) and it got a big reaction, so I knew I was doing something right."

Colianni is a lover of music that ranges from Nirvana to Art Tatum. "I sometimes get bored with the limitations of bebop. I realize saying this might make some enemies, but as much as I love it, I prefer swing jazz, music that incorporates pop tunes, musical theater, and classical music that offers a greater means of expression. Actually, I like music for its own sake, which to me usually means swing.

'I look for songs that have a couple of elements, a memorable melody that haunts, that has some emotion that engages a response beyond the intellectual. And rhythmically I enjoy things that swing. The ideal is Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, who is a major influence on everything I do." But Colianni includes neither composer's tunes on this album. …

Colianni's solo recording debut is one he has long dreamed of making, and highlights his superb talent for bringing out the essence of a tune, not by stretching out and expanding on themes, but by honing and condensing ideas in often startling ways, without a single wasted note. - Larry Kelp

Volume 38 – Ted Rosenthal [CCD-4648]
As Pindar wrote: "Unsung, the noblest deeds will die."

Part of the joy of being a jazz critic is to be able to sing the praises of worthy artists, and perhaps help them get some of the recognition they deserve.

When I first saw Ted Rosenthal playing at a little Greenwich Village restaurant - this was back before anyone had signed him to make records I was so impressed by his chops, his sensitivity, and his versatility that I dashed off a review for The New York Post that opened with the words: "Quick! Give this guy a contract ......

Subtle we're not at The New York Post. We figure our readers are in a hurry and can't afford to wait to the last line to figure out whether or not we think someone has talent. And Rosenthal quite obviously did. There was such impressive clarity to his work. He deserved to be playing someplace where people have come to really listen, rather than a restaurant where they were maybe mostly interested in the food. That he was able to reach his audience anyway, even in those less than ideal circumstances, spoke well for him.

I'm glad there's now this CD, which shows his strengths so well. This is not his first recording. …. But this CD, his first strictly solo outing, provides the best showcase to date for his own abilities as a player.

It's easier here to savor that impressive clarity in his work that first struck me (a quality that has to do with both the wisdom of his choices of notes, and the precision and cleanliness with which he executes those choices). You can listen to any track and you can see what I meant by the clarity of his work. – Chip Deffaa

Volume 39 – Kenny Drew, Jr. [CCD-4653]
… this album marks … [Drew’s] recording debut for Concord jazz, his performing debut at Maybeck Recital Hall (one of his very few appearances on the West Coast), and it is his first solo piano album to be released. As distinctive as his prior recordings have been, this disc is the ultimate resum6, the one that most clearly demonstrates just who Drew is as a musician.

One can hear references to the giants on whose shoulders he stands, which is as Drew wants it. "My style came from various things, from listening to all the great recordings my dad made, from being heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson; from the rock and funk things I've done. I've also always studied and listened to classical music. I like a lot of modern things, so every once in a while a little Schoenberg or Messiaen might sneak into my playing. It all sinks in and becomes a part of you."

Drew observes: "This was a much different album for me. Not only was it recorded live, but also it is solo. Without other musicians you have the freedom to change at will the tempo, the harmonies and keys, things you couldn't do so easily in a group context. But the risky part is that you're alone, and you have to work harder."

Maybe so, but Drew's performance at Maybeck is the most definitive statement on record that he has yet made. With no other musicians to turn to or collaborate with, Drew has clearly defined his style, maybe in the context of more standards than he usually tackles at one sitting, but also with a finely focused sense of what he wants to say. "Jazz isn't like classical music where you play what's written," Drew says. "Not even all classical music is like that. The point is to honor and pay respect to the people who have gone before, not to copy but to assimilate all those influences and make them a part of who you are." - Larry Kelp

Volume 40 – Monty Alexander [CCD-4658]
Since making his Concord Jazz debut in 1979, indeed virtually throughout a prolific career that dates back to the late 1950s, Monty Alexander has been heard as an ensemble player. But whether accompanying vocalists, jamming with such giants as Milt Jackson and Ray Brown, or leading his own trios, quartets, and steel drums-augmented bands, the fifty-year-old pianist has long exerted a potent individual presence in the jazz world - and on Concord jazz in particular.

It's ironic then, that this solo concert should arrive so late in the label's Maybeck Recital Hall series. The pianist explains that Carl Jefferson, the late president of Concord Jazz, had intended Alexander to be Number Four or Five in the series. "(But) I chose not to do it at that time," Alexander says. "When I came back to the label, he asked me again. It was a warm gathering of people but more importantly it was the final time I saw this man. My most treasured memory of that afternoon is that I got to spend a little time with Carl and his lovely wife Nancy."

The striking qualities of Alexander's playing - his intimate knowledge of the jazz tradition, his reverence for the pre-bebop piano legacy, his prodigious technical facility, and his resilient connection to the cultural heritage of his native Jamaica - reveal themselves as never before in this rare solo performance. He admits that the vulnerability of such an intimate setting can be daunting. 'It's not the first thing I run to do," he says. 'You don't have your bass player or drummer there. You are the bass player, you are the drummer, you become the whole band, and you just have to let it happen. Long ago I did a solo session for a French label, and it came out quite well. Over the years I've come to enjoy playing solo. But I hear the whole group, even when I'm playing by myself, so I tried to bring that feeling to this gig."

… Speak Low, Alexander explains, 'is a nice standard I've had fun with over the years," and Smile holds a special place in his heart as another Nat Cole favorite and as a Charlie Chaplin composition. 'I get this extra kick out of playing songs because of what they mean. A song like Smile really gets me, not just because of the chord changes or the melody, but through what it says - the feeling I get from it."

The personal connection Alexander makes with a song imparts a unique emotional character to even his most technically stunning exhibitions. 'I know I have my own voice as a pianist,' he grants, 'but when you talk about solo piano it's hard not to reflect on Art Tatum, Nat Cole or Oscar Peterson, the two-handed piano players who approached the instrument as an endless source of possibilities. You don't just sit down and play the piano. You're trying to take your listeners on a musical journey. The piano is the vehicle."

And here at Maybeck, Monty Alexander never leaves any doubt about who's driving. - Derk Richardson

Volume 41 – Allen Farnham [CCD-4686]
What you have here is the forty-first volume of one of the most distinctive documentations of solo piano work-the Maybeck Recital Hall series a no-nonsense, fun, enlightening, spirited collection of modern day jazz piano expression. When Joanne Brackeen made a call to Concord Records' (late) Carl Jefferson in June '89 to propose a solo piano recording at Maybeck, I don't think even he would have suspected that that phone conversation would set into motion the ongoing construction of a musical dialogue with so many dialects.

The venue for this, the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California is perfect. Built in warm redwoods, Bernard Maybeck's dedication to natural design carries over to many homes in the Bay area.

The family of artists recorded here is truly a Who's Who of jazz piano. What is ultimately exciting is that we can't discuss the entire body of work cause they ain't done yet!"

The latest member of the Maybeck family to lend his two hands to the mix is Allen Farnham, a 34-year-old pianist whose considerable skills (initiated at the age of 12) have previously been heard with Susannah McCorkle, Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano, Mel Torme and Arthur Blythe, as well as on three group recordings as a leader for Concord. Additional background from studies at Oberlin College in the diverse styles of classical and Indian classical music have brought Farnham a maturity essential to the solo piano setting.

The recorded piano recital can be like giving a speech in your underwear , no shirt, no shoes, no admittance, unless one is properly attired with the skills to pull it off. For his effort, Allen Farnham shows up "after six," with formal and improvisational abilities clothing the compositions of Brubeck, Evans, Porter, McPartland and Rodgers & Hart, as well as three originals tailored for this Maybeck moment. …

Allen Farnham has studied long and hard. This sixty minute solo concert adds countless hours of enjoyment to the Maybeck story. Whether a fan or a student of jazz piano, one can think of Allen Farnham's Maybeck Recital Hall concert as a gift exchange - with the listener making off with all the presents. - Gary Walker

Volume 42 – James Williams [CCD-4694]
Usually, James Williams spends his time organizing projects that involve a multitude of people. An unselfish sort, James Williams continues - almost to a fault - to put others' needs and careers in front of, or at least along side, his own. What's more, there's a driving force to the Memphian, a kind of entrepreneurial spirit, that further extends his field of jazz vision.

That's why this solo album - Volume 42 of Concord's Maybeck Recital Hall series - is such a treat. Never mind the fact that the offering represents the first of its kind in James Williams's quite distinguished and ongoing career. …

For James, this outing offers him the opportunity to solo in a live setting, and he's proud that all the selections here were done in one take. "The challenge with something like this," says James, "is clearly to be able to keep one's playing fresh and inventive. I enjoyed the instrument and the size of the hall - and the audience. People came out and were extremely responsive. I hadn't played in the Bay Area for some time." The fact that the ambiance more than met James's expectations only strengthened his performance. "To a great extent, I was inspired by the setting. I went out to play a concert, not to make a recording." Adds James, emphasizing his point: "This was a concert that happened to be a recording."

The other aspect of this session that's so rewarding is that James successfully manages to capture most, if not all, of his musical sides. "I pretty much decided to do a jazz standard program, things that I like to play." Still, notes James, there's "a wide scope and range of material." He consciously chose music that examines basic standards, takes a look at show tunes and tin pan alley, and also delves into bebop and more contemporary jazz. …

In the end, James says he feels as if he accomplished what he set out to do: "I enjoy performing and playing. I was glad it was live. (That makes it) less predictable, less contrived, more spontaneous, more fun. I didn't have to try to create an atmosphere. Maybeck offered me all the elements that are central to a good jazz setting." - Jon W. Poses


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