There is nothing in jazz quite so naked as the solo pianist. There is nowhere to hide, no one to comp behind, no help whatsoever. Its just the player, the piano, and the audience. So a pianist had better have something to say, and the talent and style to say it in a manner that will capture the ears of his or her listeners. Whatever the musician's chosen style, be it the virtuosity of Art Tatum, the quiet classicism of Bill Evans, or the wrong-note-at-the-right-time precision of Thelonious Monk, it had better come across to the public, or hell go nowhere fast.
Benny Greens challenge with his latest Telarc release, Greens Blues, is to find that piece of turf he can stake out as his own. Its a formidable task, but one that Green should be up to after his recent run of fine trio albums which has established him as one of todays hot, young (well, relatively speaking) jazz pianists. And while he has demonstrated that he has the talent, he now needs to show that he has something to say.
Does he succeed? That, my friends, will be up to you to decide. To these ears, Green holds out much promise. I hear much of the past in the pits of Greens Blues -- a little Tatum here, some Phineas Newborn, Jr. there (as on "Someone To Watch Over Me"), a touch of Monk (in the opening of "You Make Me Feel So Young"), and the subtlety of Bill Evans (on "Misty"). It all adds up to an homage to Greens inspirations. Unfortunately, it doesnt always add up to Benny Green. And that may be his biggest problem here: many times you find yourself listening to those influences, and not to Green himself.
At least the sound wont get in the way of your enjoyment. Telarc, once again using Sonys DSD process, has recorded Greens Hamburg Steinway "D" 0290 piano to sound just as it would if he were playing it in your listening room. Starting from your left speaker and running to just inside your right, the piano is spread out across the soundstage as a realistic, full-sized instrument. Telarc has captured the true percussive nature of felt hammers striking steel strings (not to mention fleshy fingers banging on ivory keys). Its an up close sound, lacking only the air surrounding the piano to give it that live feel.
As the album's title suggests, this disc is chock-full of blues and blues interpretations of old standards. There is nothing new here, just Greens takes on old popular songs. Whether or not you take a fancy to it is up to you. But dont pass it up on principle, or youll miss out on some mighty fine music and a wonderful recording.
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