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- Posted on Dec 17th 2009 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
Three pianists came together on Dec. 3 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall to pay tribute to Peterson as part of Just Jazz: The Joyce Wein Series -- it was 60 years ago that Peterson arrived from his native Montreal to play a breakout performance at Carnegie Hall as a special guest for Norman Granz's famed Jazz at the Philharmonic. Fans of Peterson will always have a soft spot for his solo work, and this program without intermission featured the varied talents of Kenny Barron, Hiromi and Roger Kellaway in abridged solo sets of 35 minutes.
The evening began with Kellaway. After a busy jazz career in the '50s and '60s, Kellaway became Bobby Darin's musical director and has also done a variety of sideman work, soundtracks (including Clint Eastwood's just-out Invictus) and New Age music. Kellaway has, in recent years, brought this versatility back to jazz, turning out a string of excellent albums for the IPO label that defy easy categorization.
Never afraid to have fun at the keyboard, the irrepressible Kellaway opened the set with a contemplative number that seemed at complete odds with Peterson's own densely articulated style. As chords hung in the air, Kellaway would hold up his hands away from his body, seemingly holding the notes aloft. Often he stamped his foot in time and hummed along, going to a bluesy style of jazz that would morph expectedly -- at one point during 'I Was Doing Alright' he almost sounded like avant-gardist Cecil Taylor as he raced around the keyboard. Highlights included his version of Peterson's elegiac 'Hymn to Peace' and a tricky 7/4 blues that finished out the set.
The audience had just a few moments to gather itself before Hiromi hit the stage. The young pianist, who has recently toured with such icons as Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, as well as leading her own bands, tore into an incendiary version of 'I Got Rhythm.' As the audience sat pinned against the wall, she took the song's melody and methodically deconstructed at a pace that left her hands a blur. After the warm playfulness of Kellaway, this young woman in sneakers, black leggings and her hair up in a ponytail announced herself by seemingly detonating a bomb. She was breathless at the end of the song as she spoke heartfeltly of playing the song for Peterson when they met for the first time.
From there the set unfolded, with her offering up different gambits of dazzle -- one particularly striking moment had her playing a very fast but quiet circular figure using her left hand with unwavering accuracy over the course of a minute while her right plucked occasionally at notes. During the final song in the set, her own 'Choux a la Crème,' the pianist did a variation on this, using one hand to play the keys as she reached inside the piano to dampen the wires with her other hand. It was a set filled with fireworks and technical skill that left the audience roaring with applause.
Kenny Barron had the unenviable task of appearing right after that performance, and before he even sat down to the piano, he took the mic and said, "How the hell do I follow that?" The answer was to be the elegant veteran that he is. Whereas Hiromi's set was highlighted with pyrotechnics, Barron has leaned towards tasteful understatement over the course of his very impressive career. Even though they played more or less at the same volume as the other two, there was a elegant stillness to Barron. His body barely moved has he played, contrary to his two colleagues, who were all over the piano bench, yet his music was always moving forward, shifting from one thought to the next without pause, sometimes leaving the listener lost for a second before realizing that something had changed within the music.
The set included opener Benny Carter's 'When the Lights Are Low,' Eubie Blake's 'Memories of You' and ended on a high note with an obscure Thelonious Monk tune titled 'Shuffle Boil.' Here Barron smoothed over a few of Monk's angular rhythms, but he still nailed the way that Monk is able to seemingly bend notes when he plays a melody. It was lovely to hear and it's doubtful anyone could ever do the song better.
There were no long speeches about the life and times of Oscar Peterson. Instead, this night was filled with music by three pianists who really did more of their own thing than any real overt nod to the honoree. Nonetheless, it was nice to hear three very different players in short succession, making the format itself quite enjoyable and a success.
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