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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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ERROLL GARNER

Live in '63 and '64

Jazz Icons by Naxos 2.119021

 

 


1. Erroll's Theme
2. I Get a Kick out of You
3. Fly Me to the Moon
4. Sweet and Lovely
5. It Might As Well Be Spring
6. Misty
7. Where or When
8. Thanks for the Memories
9. Erroll's Theme
10. When Your Lover Has Gone
11. Fly Me to the Moon
12. Mambo Erroll
13. My Funny Valentine
14. One-Note Samba
15. Where Or When
16. Thanks for the Memories
17. Erroll's Theme

Erroll Garner - Piano
Eddie Calhoun - Bass
Kelly Martin - Drums

 

This DVD opens with the sight of Erroll Garner's smiling face. He is enjoying himself - and he wants us to enjoy ourselves too. And most jazz fans will enjoy this DVD hugely. It consists of two concerts filmed for television - respectively in 1963 in Belgium (tracks 1 to 8) and 1964 in Sweden (tracks 9 to 17). The film footage is in black-and-white, but this is no hindrance to enjoyment, especially as the camera concentrates on Garner's hands at the piano keyboard, challenging the viewer to wonder how he creates such a wealth of varied sound and rhythm.

Erroll starts as he did most concerts: with the short Erroll's Theme. Then he launches into one of those characteristic introductions which give no clue to what he is about to play. These enigmatic prefaces were compositions in themselves, and displayed the extremely adventurous side of a pianist who has sometimes been under-rated by jazz critics because he was so popular. Ten seconds of a Garner intro can be worth ten minutes of Keith Jarrett's ramblings.

Erroll's first introduction leads into I Get a Kick out of You, with his two hands seemingly playing different but complementary rhythms. The rhythmic impulse is irresistible - as is Garner's improvisation on the theme. His style was utterly unique, although it has often been imitated in later years. Erroll often set up a slightly delayed beat which increased the propulsion of the music. And he used the whole piano - often to startling effect. In an interview, Erroll noted that the piano has 88 keys and "the guy who made it must have had something in mind".

He takes Fly Me to the Moon unusually slowly, with beautifully limpid decoration. The tempo briefly gathers pace to a loping swing but then settles back into liquid rhapsodising. Sweet and Lovely exemplifies another of Garner's talents: his control of dynamics, varying the volume and power with great acumen. Like most Garnerian fast numbers, Sweet and Lovely follows a fairly set pattern: a theme statement, improvisation closing with a chorus in which riffs are used as unifying forces, then a return to the melody leading to an ending which can often be surprising or witty or both. One can sympathise with the bassist and drummer, who have to try and follow or even anticipate Erroll's unpredictabilities. When bassist Eddie Calhoun is in shot, you can see him standing beside Garner and leaning forward to see what the pianist's hands are getting up to. And drummer Kelly Martin is frequently wrong-footed by Garner doing the unexpected.

Despite the basic format, every Garner performance is a marvel of invention, swing and wonderment. If jazz is, in Whitney Baliett's words, the sound of surprise, Erroll is a jazz master. He quotes from Spring is Here in the midst of It Might As Well Be Spring, while his version of Where or When swings along as unstoppably as it did on his famous "Concert by the Sea" album - although with subtle but significant differences. Both his performances of Thanks for the Memory on this DVD (entitled Thanks for the Memories on the sleeve) include quotations from various classical works. The first concert also includes a tender rendition of Garner's most famous composition: Misty.

In the second concert, When Your Lover Has Gone supplies a good example of Garner's left hand playing slightly behind the beat, making the tune more bouncy. Fly Me to the Moon reappears, but with different variations. My Funny Valentine shows how Erroll's hands could play with complete independence.

The introduction to One-Note Samba leads you to expect an up-tempo number in common time but instead it develops into a bossa nova - very springy and propulsive. The final Erroll's Theme treads delicately, at an almost inaudible pianissimo.

This DVD offers an hour of brilliant music from one of the great originals of jazz.

Tony Augarde



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