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Road 66 - American Piano Music
See full track-listing at end of review
Shani Diluka (piano)
rec. September 2013, Maison de la musique, Nanterre, France
MIRARE MIR 239 [69:55]

Shani Diluka’s eclectic new recital of American music is addictively good. Her selections tend toward the lyrical and poetic, rather than seeking out music that would fit some absurd stereotype of brash cowboys gambling in casinos.
 
John Adams’ meditative China Gates has never been played better; George Gershwin is represented by love-songs rather than jazzy romps; Amy Beach and Samuel Barber offer pearls of bright late-romantic beauty. One of the greatest of all American composers appears twice, despite being almost totally forgotten by classical pianists: Bill Evans, represented by an improvisation and a glorious tune from his weekend of live recordings at the Village Vanguard.
 
Diluka’s playing is consistently - I wish there were a more descriptive word - flawless. Exquisite. John Cage is here, with In a Landscape, a work that counts among his most evocative; if the name Cage scares you, fear not. Diluka makes it into a vivid watercolor painting of the big western sky, a few light clouds floating above an endless horizon. Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” has an almost childlike simplicity. Diluka even transforms Philip Glass into a keyboard poet; Glass’s greatest detractors may not even realize they are listening to something he wrote. Then there’s her reading of “I Loves You, Porgy”, which defies my ability to describe. Maybe I am a sap but when the track begins my breathing holds still. It is the finest version to appear since Nina Simone sang it.
 
Not everything here is strictly “American”, in the Route 66 USA sense. Alberto Ginastera shows up with a superb dance I had not heard before; Percy Grainger makes a cameo; and there’s a surprisingly touching piece by Hyung-ki Joo, of the comedy duo Igudesman & Joo, who was born in England and studied in Manhattan.
 
Regrets? I have but two. First, it is too bad Bill Evans is here without the company of his fellow jazz geniuses, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk - “Bluette” and “Blue Monk” would have fit in here. Second, guest star Natalie Dessay joins in on the final track, singing “What is this thing called love” as an encore, and to my surprise she’s the worst thing on the album. Her voice is an odd fit for the music, and her heavy accent an added distraction.
 
Is one flawed track out of eighteen enough to keep me from making this a Recording of the Month? No. This is just a stunning album: the musical selections are excellent, the playing is consistently beyond criticism, and the recorded sound, too, is clear, warm, and true. The booklet notes contain pairings of Jack Kerouac quotes for every piece. The booklet also contains some errors (September 11 is misprinted as “7/11”), but most of them are rather endearing. For instance, Mirare is a French label, and so they translated some American phrases into French and back rather than preserving the originals. Thus “I loves you, Porgy” has been rendered as “I love Porgy,” and more glaringly, “Route 66” somehow became “Road 66.” But when you love somebody, you think their quirks are endearing rather than irritating. And lord, do I love this CD.
 
Brian Reinhart 
 
Full Track-Listing
John ADAMS (b.1947)
China Gates [4:39]
Keith JARRETT (b.1945)
My Wild Irish Rose [5:05]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Lullaby [5:05]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Pas de deux [3:58]
Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Young Birches [2:37]
Bill EVANS (1929-1980)
Waltz for Debby [2:09]
Philip GLASS (b.1937)
Etude No. 9 [2:16]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
For Felicia Montealegre [1:58]
John CAGE (1912-1992)
In a Landscape [6:18]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
I Loves You, Porgy [5:10]
Leonard BERNSTEIN
Interlude [1:35]
Richard Hyung-Ki JOO (?)
Chandeliers [6:25]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Danza de la mozo donosa [3:23]
Leonard BERNSTEIN
For Aaron Copland [1:05]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Piano Blues No. 1, “For Leo Smit” [2:21]
Bill EVANS
Peace Piece [7:04]
George GERSHWIN
Love Walked In [4:27]
Cole PORTER (1891-1964)
What Is This Thing Called Love [4:09] 


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