This gargantuan package – a ten-LP set now compressed into a chunky six-CD box – once was derided as the ultimate ego trip, probably by many who didn't take the time to hear it all. You have to go back to Art Tatum's solo records for Norman Granz in the '50s to find another large single outpouring of solo jazz piano like this, all of it improvised on the wing before five Japanese audiences in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Sapporo. Yet the miracle is how consistently good much of this giant box is.
Keith Jarrett weaves a special kind of spell in his improvisations, one somehow connected to a greater humanity, for though the music and playing are ethereal, one is never mistaken that they are anything but earthly. Jarrett is not a mere vessel, but a creative force of flesh and bone whose fingers speak in ways we can only understand without words. This live recording from Tokyo’s Suntory Hall expands that flesh, and feels so intimate it might as well have grown away from others in the cave of his private studio.
Recorded in 2001 live at the State Opera House in Munich, Out of Towners features the Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio in the kind of performance we've come to expect from them these last 21 years: Stellar. Being one of contemporary jazz's longest-running bands has its advantages; one of them is having nothing to prove. First and foremost, this band plays standards like no one else.
This CD features two quite lovely piano quintets, beautifully played by a quartet of players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Clifford Curzon at the piano. The first piece is by Antonin Dvorak, who composed two piano quintets. The first of these is a relatively early work that Dvorak composed in 1872 when he was 31. The second of his quintets was composed only 15 years later and remains one of his most popular chamber works. The other piece on the CD is by César Franck and, along with his other major chamber works - the violin sonata and the string quartet - reminds the listener of the atmosphere of Franck's best known work, the symphony in d minor.
ALthough not very famous, Jeno Jando is a marvelous pianist. He combines lyrical beaty with power and emotion. Both of these attributes are evident in this disc, which contains the piano concertos of Grieg and Schumann, both in the key of a-minor. In Grieg's concerto, Jando creates a perfect balance between Lisztian virtuosity and Grieg's own Norweigan nationalism. The Schumann concerto is my favorite piece on the album, and Schumann's raw emotion comes out perfectly in Jando's interpretation. A word should also be said for the wonderful orchestration of these pieces. This is a wonderful CD both to introduce these romantic piano concertos and to offer a wonderful interpretation of them.
This set was the Saint-Saëns piano concerto reference edition of choice until EMI remade all five works with pianist Jean-Philippe Collard and conductor André Previn. At the same time, Decca weighed in with Pascal Rogé and Charles Dutoit, and while both of these newcomers offer better sound and smoother orchestral playing than Aldo Ciccolini and Serge Baudo, these performances still retain their considerable charms. First, there’s Ciccolini’s witty, brittle, slightly “sec” playing, which perfectly suits the music’s basically neo-classical aesthetic.
Wilhelm Kempff was a master of poetic lyricism, with a wondrous keyboard touch and a breathtaking command of subtle dynamics and tonal colorations–all invaluable attributes of any Schubert interpreter. He also had the knack of holding together large structures that can often seem aimless, thus avoiding another trap many pianists fall into, that of lavishing so much attention on passing detail that Schubert's "heavenly lengths" can seem wayward wanderings. The one criticism often heard is that Kempff emphasizes poetry at the expense of drama. This magnificent set leaves that claim unsubstantiated.
Dave McKenna made a remarkably piano solo debut in 1955 with the fifteen tunes he recorded for ABC Paramount (1-15). The remaining tracks on this compilation also come from a solo album, one he cut almost eight years later for the label Realm. Playing without a rhythm section, a key challenge for a jazz pianist, McKenna accomplished a recital of lasting value and pleasure. He plays with strength, individuality, fine beat and technique, and constant taste in all tempos. He is a wonderfully co-ordinated two-handed pianist.