George Cables: Goin' Home

The 2nd-movement tune from Dvo?ák's New World Symphony (1893) sounds so American that many listeners mistake it for a Negro spiritual. The Czech composer, however, having written it in New York, insisted his themes were original, merely "embodying the peculiarities" of indigenous music. A hundred years later, George Cables demonstrates that "Goin' Home" had become as American as baseball (from Britain and Ireland), hot dogs (Vienna/Frankfurt), apple pie (England) and Chevrolet (Swiss immigrant). In any case, quoting Ellington's "I Got It Bad," Cables gently reminds us that, be it ever so humble, our most authentically American indigenous peculiarity is jazz.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Toshiko Akiyoshi: Con Alma

Con alma, meaning "with soul," was written by Dizzy Gillespie, born in Cheraw, South Carolina. Yet, as shown by Toshiko Akiyoshi, the soul in question need not derive from collard greens and black-eyed peas. Born in China, Toshiko moved at 17 to Japan following World War II, so it's unclear whether Peking duck or Ginza sushi accounts for her deep-dish piano flavoring. A composer herself, she obviously delights in Dizzy's recipe, which she not only prepares to perfection but delivers with the skill of a Zen waitress carrying steaming takeout on a Honda Super Sprint motorcycle through rush-hour Tokyo streets. Pedestrians fend for yourselves. This lady hauls alma.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Fred Hersch: Haunted Heart

Like Jessica Williams's "I Remember Bill" recorded during Maybeck's previous season, Hersch pays homage to Bill Evans. After an impressionistic beginning reminiscent of Evans's "Peace Piece," Hersch uses pedal points to set a Satie-esque stillness, and overlays the spectral standard that Evans first haunted in 1961. It's spooky. Just as ghosts attach to artifacts from their former lives, certain songs are so closely associated with particular artists that we need hear only a phrase to be drawn into their netherworld. Certainly during his lifetime Bill Evans haunted hearts like no other pianist. Fred Hersch reminds us that great spirits linger on.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Marian McPartland: A Fine Romance

So, is Marian McPartland, best known for hosting NPR's long-running Piano Jazz, a radio personality who plays jazz well, or a pianist whose personality plays well on radio? Listen to this track, and you'll think of her first and foremost as a musician. While the occasional walking bass might imply a traditionalist, her modernist harmonies and boppish right hand dispel the allusion in Dorothy Fields's unsung lyric to "old fogies" who "need crutches." Two months shy of her 73rd birthday, Marian McPartland was spry as a kitten, and just as playful, suggesting NPR stood for Never-ending Piano Radiance.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Hicks: Oblivion

Oblivion, says the dictionary, means being forgotten. Bud Powell's stunning original "Oblivion" (1951), though, was too good to meet that fate, as John Hicks's dazzling revival 40 years later attests. Taken at tempo furioso, Bud's "Oblivion" scarcely lasted two minutes, shorter even than early-'50s technology mandated. Yet Hicks, under no time limit, adds just 1˝ minutes to Bud's 2, suggesting this piece isn't meant to be longer. The technique required is daunting, energy level draining, and concentration exhausting—but only for the performer. Listeners are exhilarated. In John Hicks's hands, "Oblivion" means never to be forgotten.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Kenny Barron: Witchcraft

"I'll charm the air to give a sound," the First Witch cackles to her weird sisters, "while you perform your antic round." Cue music. During the early 1600s when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, King James himself believed in witchcraft, and music's association with paganism, sorcery and magick was well established. In the four turbulent centuries from Macbeth to Maybeck, that much hasn't changed. Music remains as enchanting as ever, especially in the bubbling cauldron of Kenny Barron's Yamaha S-400 B. Gliding on the keyboard as nimbly as a crone riding her broomstick across a moonlit Halloween sky, Kenny casts his spell.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave McKenna: Detour Ahead

Dave McKenna scuffled for decades as a sideman, equally adept with moldy figs and modernists but never making a name beyond his peers. Finally, in his 40s, he found a wider audience. This track shows how lucky we are that he stuck it out. Forty years after Billie Holiday put her indelible stamp on "Detour Ahead," McKenna finds his own, slower way inside, giving us a wistful, plaintive yet uplifting interpretation. "Why am I the only one," the lyric wonders, "travelin' this way?" Some of us, heedless of warning signs, must find our own route. Dave McKenna lights our path.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joanne Brackeen: Thou Swell

The first female flower (1969-1972) in that hothouse of testosterone, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, also won pride of place in the Maybeck Recital Hall series. To a song from Broadway's A Connecticut Yankee (1927), with dances staged originally by no less than Busby Berkeley, Brackeen applies her own gift for kaleidoscopic formation, deploying all 88 piano keys as if they were lithe chorus girls in skimpy costumes, arranging their black-&-white curvilinear motifs into quickly dissolving geometric designs observed from bird's-eye view. Yet despite her impressive choreography, Brackeen is no showoff, deferring to the melody, respectfully reharmonizing and swinging throughout. First in show.

November 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jessica Williams: I Remember Bill

No other jazz pianist of the mid-20th century more profoundly influenced his instrument than Bill Evans. Although he died nine years before the Maybeck recitals began, Evans's presence is palpable throughout this moving 4˝-minute tribute, which is so engrossing, you're startled when it ends. Jazz, normally the extroverted denizen of nightclubs and bustling cities, doesn't readily lend itself to Walden Pond's quiet introspection. Thankfully, Maybeck gave Jessica Williams an unexcelled setting for looking inward, and her audience raptly follows. Some listeners may dismiss this as New Age dinner music. Let them eat fast food. We'll take caviar by candlelight anytime.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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