Friday, April 5, 2013

Power 2 the Piano

What a treat!  Two great musicians, explorers of the jazz tradition as well as players who exploded cliches and expectations.  Tommy Flanagan (1930-2001) and Jaki Byard (1922-1999) each played a part in the advancement of Black American Music, the former appearing on a number of transitional recordings (John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus", to name but 2) while the latter worked with Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland in their groups and on historical recordings.

"The Magic of 2" (Resonance Records) documents the pianists working together on February 7, 1982, in the midst of a gig at the Keystone Korner, Todd Barkan's club in San Francisco, California.   Barkan, label owner George Klaban, and mastering engineer Fran Gala created this recording from a series of cassette tapes and, man, they have done quite a job. The 11 tracks (plus the club owner's "Introduction") include 5 duos and 3 solo pieces each with nary a clunker plus lots of vocal encouragement from the audience and the musicians. The duo come roaring out of the gate with a snappy reading of Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" - the be-bop classic translates well to the stride stylings of both pianists (their left-hand work alone is highly engaging.)  Later in the program, their delightful version of Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight" shows a distinct Duke Ellington influence in the chordal patterns yet the real highlight is their intertwined solo.

Both pianists use the solo section to display their varied interests.  Flanagan offers 3 works from Billy Strayhorn including a short but poetic reading of "Chelsea Bridge" and a joyous reading of "All Day Long."  Byard, who could make any song swing and sing, chooses 3 very different pieces.  His reading of Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love" moves from the beautiful to a knuckle-busting solo that fires up the audience. Even better, he builds the entire piece from the chord changes to "Giant Steps" (which also sounds close to the chord progression of "Central Park West.")  Later in the program, he performs Chuck Mangione's "Land of Make Believe" which he gives an almost Wagnerian gravitas.  His variations on the melody during the solo section goes from the ridiculous to the sublime (and back).  One might think he's making fun of the jazz musician's "pop" hit but, really, he's "riffing" in the style of Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams.  They are comedians (Byard had a great comedic side) who just take a theme and roll with it. Here, Bard is having fun by letting his mind and fingers run wild.

Is it too early to hope that Mr Barkan and Klaban have more of this music stashed in their closets?  The pianists have so much fun together and they make it fun for the audience.  O, those lucky folks in attendance and, now, lucky us.  What a treat!

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