This B&A originally appeared in JazzTimes in 2008. This is the first time it has appeared in its entirety.
1. Erroll Garner
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” (from Long Ago and Far Away, Columbia). Garner, piano; John Simmons, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums. Recorded in 1950)
Before: Erroll Garner? He’s got one of the most distinctive, original styles. There’s a cohesiveness between what he’s doing rhythmically with his left hand and what’s going on with the rest of the band. I’ve always loved where he places the beat; it’s got that forward motion to it. He swings his ass off! This makes me want to go through a big Erroll Garner phase. The arrangement is so tight, it sounds so effortless. I don’t know the tune but it’s something in B-flat minor.
After: As a piano player, Erroll Garner is on my list of top players in control of rhythm. Another big one for me is Kenny Kirkland. I know they’re really different players but both of them made it feel so effortless where they place the notes. It never feels like they’re rushing or dragging. I think any pianist that respects the tradition and the mechanics of what goes into actually making something swing has to check out Erroll Garner.
2. Martial Solal
“Tea For Two” (from Longitude, Cam Jazz). Solal, piano; François Moutin, bass; Louis Moutin, drums.
Before: That’s an interesting way of interaction between musicians, it’s so freely phrased. The piano player is not coming to me right off the bat, but I can tell it’s someone who influenced people like Jason Moran. It’s not Cecil Taylor and it’s not Paul Bley. Part of me almost wants to say Denny Zeitlin. Everyone is going with what happens in the moment. They’re really responding to each other. The time kind of stays steady but then also stays in this liquid-y state, which I dig. It’s obviously a piano player with a great concept of voicings. He takes a lot of liberties with the time. It feels like a crazy version of “Tea For Two.”
After: Ok, I know François and Louis. They both play with a friend of mine, Tigran Hamasyan. What’s the story with Martial Solal? I want to hear more of that. Let me write that down.
3. Avishai Cohen
“Variations in G Minor” (from Gently Disturbed, Razdaz/Sunnyside). Cohen, bass; Shai Maestro, piano; Mark Guiliana, drums. Recorded in 2007.
Before: [immediately] Avishai Cohen? I don’t know this record but he has a very distinctive, punchy attack with perfect intonation. Then when I heard the triads after that, I figured it’s something he did with Sam Barsh. Is this from a new CD? [listens more] I love the concept. Man, talk about motion. I always feel this focused intensity from them. I really like how it unravels, texture-wise.
After: Avishai’s got such a recognizable sound. Yeah, they all have a collective anticipation within the accents but they’re also rhythmically locked up. I like what the drummer’s doing. He’s really good at shaping things dynamically behind everyone without overpowering. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s Mark. It’s also a nice melodic interchange between piano and bass. I don’t know Shai Maestro. So this just came out? That’s great, man.
4. Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones
“Lady Bird” (from Our Delights, Galaxy). Flanagan, Jones, piano. Recorded in 1978.
Before: [listens intently] There are two pianos. One is partially out of tune, which tips me off that it’s an older record. Both players are well suited to each other. They’ve got a similar way of phrasing. It almost sounds like the same pianist overdubbed. Rhythmically, they’re not dropping a beat anywhere. I know this tune; I think it’s something I played with Red Holloway. It wouldn’t be Hampton Hawes, would it? I like the fact that there was no hesitation in any conceptual ideas from either pianist. When one pianist landed on a note that was maybe outside the scale, they would use that to start the next idea. It feels like it maybe comes out of a similar place where Hank Jones places the beat. I’d like to hear the rest of this record.
After: There’s a certain way that Hank phrases things and voices things. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of those musicians. I got to do a really fun duet with Hank last year at the Lionel Hampton Festival. I love the ease of his rhythmic control, his touch. He’s opened up so many possibilities for re-harmonization in an intelligent way that respects the song. It doesn’t deviate too far from the changes but has enough hip stuff where you say, whoa, I didn’t expect that. I have one thing that Hank did on Fender Rhodes with Ray Brown; oh man, that’s such a nasty record [Rockin’ In Rhythm]. Yeah, Hank is in my top 4 or 5 pianists of all time.
Who else is in your top 5?
Of course there’s Oscar [Peterson] and Phineas [Newborn Jr.]. My mom named our new dog Phineas. Then there’s Gene Harris, Lennie Tristano. I’m a big Tommy Flanagan fan, too. He’s on so many great records.
5. Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina
“Retrato em Branco e Preto” (from Elis & Tom, Verve). Regina, vocals; Jobim, piano; Cesar Camargo Mariano, string arrangement. Recorded in 1974.
Before: “Retrato em Branco e Preto” by Elis and Jobim. It’s an amazingly beautiful tune. The melody doesn’t have a lot of gigantic leaps in it, so it builds up a lot of interior tension within the line. There’s a lot of chromaticism in it, a lot of half-step movement that changes subtly. Jobim was such a genius at letting a melody control and dictate not only the emotion and direction of the tune, but also the entire harmony, not to mention a beautiful string arrangement and Elis Regina being one of the greatest singers ever. [we discuss various Elis Regina clips we’ve found on You Tube]. If you looked at my iTunes most played list, that CD, in fact that track is probably way up there. It’s deep too. That song makes me feel a lot of things. [he expresses frustration at not being able to adequately describe it, eventually saying] This is why I’m a musician, because I can’t think of any freakin’ words. [closely examines the CD] Just because of the generation I’m in, I never get to actually hold the disc and see the artwork. You picked good stuff, man.
6. Ahmad Jamal
“The Way You Look Tonight” (from It’s Magic, Dreyfus). Jamal, piano; James Cammack, bass. Recorded in 2007.
Before: It’s “The Way You Look Tonight.” I can’t get the piano player right away but he has a lot of dynamic contrast. It’s also out of time but the bassist is with him in everything. It’s in C, which to be honest I don’t think is the best key for that tune. When I’ve heard it in other keys I’ve enjoyed the song more. I couldn’t tell what they were going for with that kind of arrangement. The fact that I’m puzzled really stems from the fact that I have no idea the context of how that was used.
After: Now that makes sense. He had a lot of young, animated energy in the right hand, and also played a great deal in the high register with his right hand, which is kind of an Ahmad-ism. And now the left hand makes sense with repeating the same inversion over and over. I dug the fact that they have the malleable time. I’d probably have to hear the whole CD to hear how that fits. Are the other tracks rhythmically free like that? I have a lot of respect for Ahmad, and not just for his touch. He’s one of the best pianists for shaping things dynamically within his right hand. He draws you in. When he uses silence it forces you to listen closer.
7. Professor Longhair
“Hey Little Girl” (from New Orleans Piano, Atlantic). Roy Byrd (Professor Longhair), piano, vocals; Robert Parker, alto saxophone; Al Miller or John Woodrow, drums; unknown tenor and bass. Recorded in 1949.
Before: I could listen to this stuff all day. Is this from New Orleans? I was just in New Orleans and this reminded me of being there, being all sweaty and hot and humid.
After: I don’t really know Professor Longhair. I might have said Henry Butler but it sounded older than that. That’s so interesting getting that dirty, sweaty sound. I really dug that. I’ll check him out, most definitely. This is a great learning experience.
8. Myra Melford
“Modern Pine” (from Big Picture, Cryptogramofone). Melford, piano; Mark Dresser, bass; Matt Wilson, drums. Recorded in 2006.
Before: [listens for 20 seconds] The tune is in 11, or you could call it three bars of 3 and one bar of 2. Or maybe they’re thinking of it as 6 and 5, or maybe they’re not hearing the triplet inside of it. That bass player has a lot of quick vibrato when he goes up into higher registers. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like the bass and drums are locking up that well. But that could be what they’re going for. It kind of goes in and out of walking in time. It’s got a cool shape to it but it feels like I’m missing something. [hears them play free]. I like that part. That’s my favorite part so far. The more I’m listening to it the more it seems the disconnect between drums and bass is purposeful. Yeah, I’m liking it more and more. Part of it makes me think of Jason Moran. I think this might be more interesting to see live than on a record. There’s a lot of interaction that I know is going on but I can’t see it.
After: Myra Melford teaches at UC Berkeley. I’ve heard a lot of her other stuff that I really like. That’s an interesting one.
9. Dawn Clement
“Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go/All of Me” (from Break, Origin). Clement, piano, vocals. Recorded in 2007.
Before: I really like how there’s no reverb on her voice. It sounds like a new singer, a young singer too. She’s really good at expressing the lyrics. Is she also playing the piano? That adds a whole other dimension to it. I have to say I don’t like the solo. I dug everything she was doing up to that point. Maybe that’s cold for me to say. I really like the piano in the first part of it. It felt very independent. The solo felt less focused to me.
After: I don’t know her but she’s a really good piano player. Which cut is this one? I didn’t mean to be so harsh on her solo but it’s bringing out the piano instructor in me [laughs]. There was such a beautiful, minimalist, exposed aura coming from the whole thing. But when she went to the solo, it didn’t feel as vulnerable and exposed. It broke the mood. I’d love to check her out more, though. Can we hear it again? [we listen again]. She’s got such great control over touch and everything. It’s beautiful. So now after she sings the head, I’d rather she go back to the zone of the intro. That’s the one thing that would have tied everything together. It’s so exposed. I really dig it. [transition into All of Me] Whew! Great harmonic movement. She’s really good, these are nice creepy chords. It gives the song a whole new meaning.
10. Larry Willis
“Theme From Star Trek” (from The Offering, High Note). Willis, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Eddie Gomez, bass; Billy Drummond, drums. Recorded in 2007.
Before: Great voicings, whoever this is. He‘s playing like an A-flat minor 11, over B-flat to B-flat minor 11. Basically it’s the same voicing but down a whole step over a B-flat drone. Those voicings had a lot of different notes within them and my belief is that good chords are constructed with different notes, limiting redundancies. The tenor is really refreshing. For my taste, I’d like to hear the drummer interact a little more. The drummer’s swinging really hard; I like the sound of his cymbals, and he’s keeping good time. It sounds like a fairly recent recording. I’ve heard this tune but I’ve never played it myself. It doesn’t feel like there’s a very high level of listening going on, though. All of the musicians have really good ideas but when the drummer implied a certain idea, no one would go with him. Maybe I would like other things on the CD.
After: I would have liked to hear Eric in a different band. I think Larry Willis had really good ideas but it didn’t feel locked in to me. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t feel like Eddie was really holding it together, to be honest. I mean Eddie Gomez is one of the most brilliant, gifted bass players ever but I didn’t feel like he was locking everything together as an integral part of the group, at least not on that track. I want to check out the rest of the record.
11. Marcin Wasilewski
“Diamonds and Pearls” (from January, ECM). Wasilewski, piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass; Michal Miskiewicz, drums. Recorded in 2007.
Before: Sounds kind of like a live recording in a big hall. This is a pop song, right? I kind of recognize it. I think whoever it is might be inspired by Brad Mehldau’s trio. As far as drums, it sounds in-between Jeff Ballard, Jack DeJohnette and Bill Stewart. The bass player has really terrific intonation. I like this. It puts a high priority on the melody and the emotional shape and slope to the tune. It’s got a good collective dynamic between the three. I can tell this is a very locked together trio. Drummer listens extremely well. A part of me wants to say Alan Pasqua, but the solo didn’t sound like him. He’s playing on a Steinway; I can tell because it’s got a darker tone in the high register. The voicings in the high register lead me to believe the player is between the ages of 25 to 45. I think this is probably a pianist I know.
After: Oh my gosh, I can’t even pronounce any of these names. I’m not hip to them. [writes down their names]. I dug that. It’s not the style that I necessarily play but I like what they were going for. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say he’s influenced by Brad. Brad is hands down my favorite pianist in the world and so many people, including myself, have been influenced by his phrasing. It’s so ingrained in like every piano player that you hear now. But you’re also playing a lot of people who haven’t necessarily been influenced by Mehldau, which is kind of nice.
12. Andrew Hill
“ML” (from Dusk, Palmetto). Hill, piano, composer; Ron Horton, trumpet; Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone; Marty Ehrlich, alto saxophone; Scott Colley, bass; Billy Drummond, drums. Recorded in 1999.
Before: Wow, I like this. The pianist is playing so minimalist behind this. Saxophone has a crisp, bright, non-breathy tone, and the way the piano player is accompanying this is cool. That saxophone player is ridiculous, whoever it is. Very passionate. It almost felt like the other musicians were collectively reading a poem that was going by while the sax player was blowing on top. It’s harmonically adventurous, the mix of recognizable and dissonant harmonies and the juxtaposition of those types of harmonies remind me of what’s happening in New York nowadays. Who is this?
After: Andrew is one of those harmonically risk-taking geniuses like Sam Rivers who create harmonies that balance dissonance and consonance. I love Andrew’s work and I have a whole bunch of his albums, but I don’t have this one [writes it down]. That’s a really amazing statement they made there.
13. Brad Mehldau
“Countdown” (from Brad Mehldau Trio Live, Nonesuch). Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums. Recorded in 2006.
Before: This instantly gets my attention. I think Mehldau is probably influenced by this person. The separate hand independence is out of control, unbelievable. I think it’s probably somebody I already listen to, but I was wrong about Marcin Wasilewski. [bass and drum enter] I really think this is Mehldau: he’s got perfect sense of rhythm, complete hand independence, absolutely perfect time. Drums are playing the best possible role that they could to support what the pianist is doing-that is, keeping time but also flipping stuff without getting too overpowering. Sounds like Larry Grenadier. This is some of the freest playing I’ve ever heard from Brad.
After: Wow, so this is the new one? It’s probably the only one of his I don’t have. He can do things that other players hear in their head and want to do. The difference is that he can freakin’ do it.
If Brad were here right now, what would you ask him?
How the hell did you do that? [laughs].