1. Intro 1
2. On Green Dolphin Street
3. Lover Man
4. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
5. Centre de Gravité
7. 'Round Midnight
8. Have You Met Miss Jones?
9. The Last Time I Saw Paris
10. Intro 2
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
The next two tracks are the only original compositions
by Solal on the album, the rest being jazz standards. Centre de
Gravité 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 beat - 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.