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Jack Reilly - "Live at Maybeck Recital Hall"

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Jack Reilly
OVERVIEW:

When you read the biographies of jazz artists, many relate a common story; musical studies that began with a foundation built on classical training before giving way to jazz. And while a classical influence can still be heard in a number of contemporary musicians, see Brad Mehldau, few actually perform both classical and jazz, and even fewer release a mixed recording of the two genres. I'm not speaking of Third Stream music here (the synthesis of classical and jazz); instead I'm referring to actual recordings that present both classical and jazz works within the same performance. Mr. Reilly's Live at Maybeck Recital Hall is one of those recordings—a true marriage of classical music, jazz standards, and original compositions.

Unless you've studied with him, seen him live, or own one of his CDs, you're probably unfamiliar with the name Jack Reilly. For more than half a century, Mr. Reilly has been honing his skills as composer, musician, and educator. Amongst his early influences, and a style he still carries forward today, are Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano; the latter supplying Reilly with material to study during the 1950s. In 1958, Reilly performed with John LaPorta at the Newport Jazz Festival and followed it up with a stint at the Village Vanguard during the 1960s. Playing with jazz legends such as Ben Webster, Reilly has performed across the globe, including solo concerts in France, Poland, Italy, and the UK. As an educator, Mr. Reilly is the former chairman of jazz studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, and has served on the faculties of the Mannes College of Music, New York University, The New School, and The Berklee School of Music. To say that this man has musical credentials is an understatement.

Jazz is a music steeped in tradition, and Jack Reilly brings that tradition to a new generation with Live at Maybeck Recital Hall. Calling on the classical underpinnings of jazz, Reilly presents a format that few, if any, contemporary artists will ever attempt. Alongside compositions by classical composers Cesar Franck, Chopin, and Ravel, Mr. Reilly presents Gershwin, Ellington, and Bill Evans, along with three original numbers. Taking the link between classical and jazz music a step further, Mr. Reilly blends and weaves the two genres together, mixing Chopin and Strayhorn in one piece and Ellington and Chopin in another. This is an album that will obviously appeal to fans of the classical genre as well as Evans, Tristano, and more recently, the solo piano offerings from Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett.

Although we are fortunate to even have this live recording (it was taken from a recently discovered cassette tape), the sound quality will drive the audiophile mad. As such, this would be a welcome addition to those who already own other recordings by Jack Reilly, but I would hesitate to recommend this to someone just discovering Mr. Reilly. Instead, if you are new to Jack Reilly, I would recommend starting with one of his high quality studio recordings and adding this as a nice complementary CD later on.

DETAILS:

Mr. Reilly opens this recording with a tip of his hat to the classical composer and pianist Cesar Franck. In this opening 18+ minute track, Jack displays the virtuosity that has earned him praise from the likes of Dave Brubeck and Bill Charlap. Reilly opens the prelude with cascading runs down the piano which brings to mind raindrops racing down a window. His timing and dynamics create a beautiful tension as the song rises and falls as if struggling within itself. The notes have a longevity which Reilly lets hang in the air as he builds themes below them. The tension he creates between the dark low register notes and his runs on the high end produce a feeling of conflict—one can easily imagine a ballerina twirling beautifully on stage while fighting her inner demons.

Although not officially a medley, the second track, titled “Chopin and Jazz," has three parts. The Jack Reilly original composition “Homage to Chopin" is sandwiched between two mixed pieces of jazz and classical. Reilly introduces this medley by discussing how he use to hear places for jazz phrasings while practicing Chopin and then goes onto seamlessly present the two genres side-by-side. This is one of the highlights of the album as the Chopin prelude acts as an almost perfect introduction for “A Train." Jazz fans will not only appreciate the introduction, but will also enjoy Reilly's take on “A Train" where he works around the melody—never getting to far away from the theme, but still exploring with a mix of jazz and classical phrasings. With “Homage To Chopin," Reilly brings a classical waltz feeling to the recording as the tune meanders to and fro. Closing out “Chopin and Jazz" is Mr. Reilly's interpretation of the jazz standard “It Don't Mean A Thing"—and what a treat this is. While his left hand serves as the walking bass line, his right is free to explore; again, always close enough to hint at the melody, yet far enough away to hear his skills as an improviser.

Another highlight, especially for Bill Evans fans, is Reilly's treatment of stringing three Evans songs together with Ravel's “Minuet." After opening with “My Bells," Reilly goes right into the Ravel number, followed by “Waltz for Debbie" and “Peri's Scope." This is perhaps the best example of understanding the connection between classical and jazz that Mr. Reilly is trying to convey as the Ravel number fits perfectly with the Evans selections. Furthermore, his take on “Peri's Scope" is worth the cost of admission. Again, he sets the bass line with his left hand while his right goes off filling in all available spaces. Reilly not only shows his in-depth knowledge of the Evans songbook, but also where musical additions to the original can add a nice flavor.

The Reilly original “November" is one of those songs you'll swear you've heard before; it might not be completely recognizable, but there is a certain level of comfort and intimacy which makes it feel known. Tempo shifts throughout allow this number to share a classical and jazz feeling and some of the high register phrasing speaks to Asian characteristics. It's a fun romp which displays Reilly's ability and creativity as a song writer.

Next, Reilly turns his attention to George Gershwin with a medley consisting of “Someone To Watch Over Me," “My Man's Gone Now," and “I Got Rhythm." Starting off slow, but shifting tempos throughout, Reilly expands on these three numbers with tremolos, fills, and a bit of stride piano. While some of the phrasings are light and spacious—reminiscent of jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi—his rousing rendition of “I Got Rhythm" is the kind of up-tempo number which will keep your feet-a-tapping.

RECOMMENDATION:

2.5 out of 5, With higher recording fidelity, this album would have easily garnered a 3—and possibly higher. Since most of my listening sessions are done with studio monitoring headphones, even the slightest degradation in audio quality is revealed. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to become fully immersed in the music and let oneself get carried away. That being said, there is still enough virtuosity displayed to make this a welcomed addition to any jazz/classical collection. As I expressed above, I would not recommend this as a first foray into the work of Jack Reilly; and that is not a knock on the musician, but on the recording. It would be the equivalent of introducing someone to Thelonious Monk by playing an inferior live recording as someone's first listen. Instead, I would recommend starting with one of Mr. Reilly's studio recordings and adding this work—as it truly displays his talents as a composer, arranger, and performer. Stop by Jack's site and see what he has to offer—he's a talented musician who is helping to carry the jazz tradition into the 21st century. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what he has to offer on November and Blue-Sean Green.

Jack Reilly—piano

Recording date: April 10, 1988 (Unichrom)

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