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

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Piano Starts Here: Live at the Shrine

Zenph by Sony 88697-22218-2



1. Tea For Two
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Tiger Rag
4. Sophisticated Lady
5. Humoresque
6. Tatum Pole Boogie
7. Someone To Watch Over Me
8. How High the Moon
9. Yesterdays
10. Willow Weep For Me
11. The Kerry Dance
12. Gershwin Medley
13. I Know That You Know
14. Tea For Two
15. St. Louis Blues
16. Tiger Rag
17. Sophisticated Lady
18. Humoresque
19. Tatum Pole Boogie
20. Someone To Watch Over Me
21. How High the Moon
22. Yesterdays
23. Willow Weep For Me
24. The Kerry Dance
25. Gershwin Medley
26. I Know That You Know

Imagine sitting in a theatre, waiting for a performance. There is a grand piano on the stage, and it starts playing - but nobody is playing it. The piano is performing tunes recorded decades ago by Art Tatum and now remastered with the wonders of modern technology. This actually happened last year at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, where Art Tatum had actually recorded some of these tracks as part of a live album in 1949. But Tatum died in 1956 and, in his place last year, there was a pole topped by a "dummy head" which contained a binaural microphone.

Whether or not the 2007 audience got the feeling that they were really at an Art Tatum performance, it all sounds a rather odd way of presenting a new version of some classic recordings. At any rate, here they are - although, equally oddly, in two separate versions: one a "stereo surround version"; the other called "a binaural stereo version - the ultimate headphone experience". In other words, the first 13 tracks are for listening on your hi-fi, while the same tunes are repeated for you to hear through headphones.

Discounting the odd presentation, what you have here is a cleaned-up version of four early Tatum recordings from 1933, followed by tunes recorded at a "Just Jazz" concert in 1949. Certainly the sound is much improved over the original recordings, so that you can just sit back and enjoy Art Tatum's magnificent piano playing. It certainly is magnificent, justifying the awe in which he is held by most jazz pianists as well as jazz fans. His technique was genuinely astounding, as is evident in the headlong Tiger Rag and the brilliant I Know That You Know. Strangely, he sounds less impressive in Tatum Pole Boogie, where some of the boogie rhythm notes seem to be missing, and the pianist occasionally even appears to stumble.

The listener can also savour Tatum's unique approach to classical pieces like Humoresque and folk songs like The Kerry Dance. The former displays his fondness for arpeggios which can sometimes seem excessive. Yet you can set against this his lightness of touch and the superb rhythmic sense which meant that, however many liberties he took with the beat, there was still an underlying rhythm. And The Kerry Dance illustrates his humorous side: giving the tune an almost Irish lilt. Most tracks are simply stunning in their technical wizardy: like the Gershwin Medley, which somehow moves through The Man I Love, Summertime, I Got Plenty o' Nuttin', It Ain't Necessarily So and back to The Man I Love with such seamless transitions that they are hardly noticeable.

All in all, this is a fine remembrance of a superlative pianist. But I would rather hear this album at home than sit in a theatre staring at a piano on a stage, apparently played by a robot.

Tony Augarde





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