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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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WILLIE "THE LION" SMITH & DON EWELL

Stride Piano Duets

Delmark DE 249

 

 



 

1. Relaxin'
2. Blue Skies
3. I Found a New Baby
4. Tea for Two
5. Charleston
6. You're Driving Me Crazy
7. Here Comes the Band
8. Sweet Georgia Brown
9. Georgia on my Mind
10. Linger Awhile/Shine
11. If I Could Be With You
12. Just You, Just Me
13. Squeeze Me
14. Twelfth Street Rag
 
Willie "The Lion" Smith - Piano, vocals
Don Ewell - Piano (tracks 1-6, 8-14)

 

Two giants of stride piano came together for this live album, recorded at the Golden Nugget in Toronto in 1966. Previously the same year, they had recorded together for the studio album Grand Piano but this was the first time they were recorded in concert. They were recorded by promoter David Gillman but the tapes were never released until Gillman's widow gave them to Delmark Records, so this is their first appearance on disc.

Willie "The Lion" Smith was, of course, one of the doyens of stride piano, a distinctive character with his big cigar, derby hat and extrovert manner. Willie was much admired by other pianists, and Duke Ellington even wrote a tribute to him: Portrait of The Lion. Don Ewell was the younger of the two - 50 years old to Willie's 69 when they recorded together.

Their styles were very similar - and therein lies one of the problems with this album. It is often difficult to tell the two men apart, and there is no stereo separation to help distinguish between them. The Lion may be the more powerful player but he is matched by Ewell - the only contrast between them being that Willie often shouts and makes comments while they are playing. Here Comes the Band gives us a chance to hear Willie playing on his own.

The Lion's age was beginning to show, so that he couldn't always manage the flowery passages that once decorated his playing. Since both men play in stride style, the bass lines often overlap and even conflict with one another. This is noticeable at the start of Sweet Georgia Brown, where some wrong notes and clashing rhythms make for a somewhat ragged performance. But this is followed by a more considered Georgia on my Mind, where the two pianists stay out of each other's way more successfully and collaborate instead of competing.

At any rate, it is good to hear these two piano giants clearly enjoying their sparring match. And the live ambience adds to the excitement. There are also incidental delights, like the unexpected verse preceding Charleston.


Tony Augarde


 

 

 

 

 



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