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

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Live at the Village Vanguard
CamJazz CAMJ 7814-2




1. Intro 1

2. On Green Dolphin Street

3. Lover Man

4. I Can't Give You Anything But Love

5. Centre de GravitÚ

6. Ramage

7. 'Round Midnight

8. Have You Met Miss Jones?

9. The Last Time I Saw Paris

10. Intro 2

11. Corcovado


Martial Solal - Piano

French pianist Martial Solal had just passed his 80th birthday when he appeared at New York's Village Vanguard club in October 2007. Yet there is no sign of him taking it easy or giving a routine performance. He is unique because, whereas other jazz pianists tend to improvise on a tune's chord-changes, Solal improvises on the tune itself - a rather different matter. He pauses frequently as he discovers new turns to take - inspired by the melody but not necessarily adhering closely to it. It's a journey of discovery for the pianist as well as the listeners, and it forces you to pay close attention.

This is far from background music. At first the numerous pauses can be disconcerting but they make sense as soon as you realise what he is doing. This truly is the sound of surprise.

The album starts with Solal humorously telling the audience that the session is being recorded - so he has to be good, and the audience has to be good as well. And they are generally good, listening intently without making the distracting noises that jazz audiences sometimes make.

On Green Dolphin Street is so often played by jazz musicians that it is in danger of being hackneyed, but there is nothing hackneyed about this performance. Martial hints at the tune rather than stating it outright, and throws in some dextrous runs which would make Art Tatum proud. He uses the tune rather like a set of Lego: assembling pieces and then pulling them apart to construct entirely different structures. His playing is salted with flashes of wit, as when he quotes Things Ain't What They Used To Be towards the end of the track and then runs up and down the piano like a mischievous kitten on the keys.

Lover Man begins mysteriously, with swirling notes that hardly hint at the tune - which eventually arrives, although in Solal's individually dissected form. At one point he goes into quasi-classical mode, but the jazz pulse is still present. I Can't Give You Anything But Love starts out-of-tempo but swings into a medium beat which is often interrupted by ventures in all kinds of directions.

The next two tracks are the only original compositions by Solal on the album, the rest being jazz standards. Centre de GravitÚ is a brooding piece with eerie chords in the bass, while Ramage is a more skittish number which contains echoes of Thelonious Monk. The Monk connection continues with Thelonious's 'Round Midnight, which Solal transmutes with hints of Debussy, Tatum and the avant-garde. Have You Met Miss Jones? takes the tune apart with humour and virtuosity. Humour is also present in The Last Time I Saw Paris, which is full of playful surprises.

The recital ends with Corcovado, which is usually given a straightforward bossa nova beatá - but nothing was straightforward on this memorable evening. Martial's interpretation veers from stride piano to rhapsodising and impishness. This already qualifies as one of my "Albums of the Year" for 2009. I cannot recommend it too highly.


Tony Augarde




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