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George Shearing – Lullaby of Birdland

George Shearing (piano)
rec. 1947-1952
NAXOS JAZZ LEGENDS 8.120823 [59.30]




1. Have You Met Miss Jones
2. I Only Have Eyes For You
3. Consternation
4. Cherokee
5. Bebop's Fables
6. Life With Feather
7. September In The Rain
8. Bop Look And Listen
9. Nothing But D Best
10. East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)
11. In A Chinese Garden
12. Carnegie Horizons
13. I'll Remember April
14. Jumping With Symphony Sid
15. Tenderly
16. Pick Yourself Up
17. Roses Of Picardy
18. There's A Lull In My Life
19. We'll Be Together Again
20. Lullaby Of Birdland

When it comes to Shearing it is possible to navigate between the Scylla of "cocktail bop" and the Charybdis of "chamber jazz" to arrive at a more just examination of his place in the scheme of things. At a time when Nat Cole’s trio was becoming so successful and when Red Norvo was spearheading his own timbral changes in small groups, Shearing’s importance is apt to be overlooked. It was hardly his fault that he achieved a certain renown.

The evidence has recently been laid out in a significant Proper box, four discs’ worth of early Shearing; this Naxos gives us a fair run of the quintet’s hits. We begin though with the trio and a 1947 side with Gene Ramey and Cozy Cole before two sides made back in London with Canadian bassist Jack Fallon (good) and English drummer Norman Burns (crude). On Cherokee Shearing reverted to his accordion, the instrument he’d played successfully in bands for a number of years. But these are appetisers for the meal, the Quintet recordings. Shearing solos at speed, sometimes it’s true rather facetiously, but with enviable tonal nuance. When the various components locked in place – try the loping September In The Rain, the group moved with splendid lightness and aplomb. When it rabble-roused, as it does on Life with Feather, it can sound frantic.

Shearing never lost his ear for colour and for a good tune; he clearly also never lost an affection for Albert Ketèlbey, whose shade he seems to invoke in In A Chinese Garden – clever guitar styling from Chuck Wayne. At its best one is reminded just how elegant the quintet was, how cleverly things meshed – and how vital Marjorie Hyams was and – not least – just how fortunate Shearing was to have John Levy and Denzil Best on-board.

Naturally the title track comes last but there are no dull moments here. If you lack Shearing material I’d direct you to the comprehensive Proper box but for a single disc summation of early Shearing this will do nicely – good transfers as well.

Jonathan Woolf


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