This is part of a series of budget CDs produced by a small English label which seems to make quite some saving from the sparseness of the information on its inlay cards. Nothing is mentioned beyond the names of the (leading) artistes and the numbers they play, a discouraging lack for the collector. But since many of the tracks are rarely found on any other collection, there's a good chance that you mightn't have come across most of the stuff here.
One positive feature, quite apart from the generally high quality of the music itself, is the fact that it is actually chosen to highlight the work of the pianists. For instance, on both Take the 'A' Train (his theme tune) and Liza, Duke Ellington takes unusually long solos on piano before the theme is introduced by his full orchestra. For a big bandleader who generally preferred to provide support to his trumpet, trombone and saxophone/clarinet soloists, the choice of tracks highlighting his work as a pianist for an album of piano jazz is thoughtful, especially as Ellington had over a hundred recordings of his theme, most of them, following his general maxim of "My orchestra is my instrument", showcasing trumpets and saxes.
Similarly, Count Basie, who also usually let his big band speak for him, contributes Good time blues, most of which has just the sound of his piano with bass and drums lending support, with the orchestra getting into the act for only the last minute or a little less. Even in the lead role, however, Basie manages to keep the music going with the minimum of piano sound, in sharp contrast to the great specialist pianists such as Earl Hines (who most often led a trio with bass and drums) and Art Tatum featured here. Hines's version of Ellington's Sophisticated lady is, as was his wont, rather denser in piano sound than even an Ellington solo version would have been. Tatum generally played solo or in trios, sometimes augmented by a saxophone, trumpet or clarinet. On Body and soul here, he reduces clarinet and trumpet to the role of accompanists addng a little body to the rendition while he fills its soul with his virtuoso piano improvisation. He executes a similar job with Stompin' at the Savoy, this time with just bass and drums.
There's a great piano duo in the two boogie-woogie legends Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, playing the legendary Roll 'em Pete, and an unusual boogie-woogie performance with plenty of drum work by Erroll Garner, who maintains the boogie-woogie beat with his left hand but not with the melody played by his right hand. Two good performances by the nimble-fingered Oscar Peterson, with bass and drums getting as free rein as Peterson, are among the other delights of the album.
Published on 13 Sept 2001
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