Recent Listening: Martial Solal


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Martial Solal Live at the Village Vanguard (CamJazz). The CD's subtitle is I Can't Give You Anything but Love. In this recital, the French pianist gives his listeners more than love. We get architectural thinking, drollery, daring, virtuosity that includes astonishing mastery of meter, and chord voicings that illuminate like fireworks. Solal was 80 when this was recorded in 2007. His command of the instrument and his intellectual resources were in full operation. He interprets seven standards with insights into the natures of the songs, deep harmonic substance and inflections of his endearing wit. Among other delights, following his deep ruminations during “'Round Midnight" he makes pointed allusions to other Thelonious Monk compositions; integrates crippled cadences into “On Green Dolphin Street;" plays abstractions of the melody, astringent parallel harmonies and stride flurries in “Corcovado." Solal has always managed to integrate profundity and entertainment without sacrificing anything of either. Two of his own compositions, “Ramage" (French for “flower patterns") and “Centre de Gravite," have characteristics suggested by their titles and give the impression of pure improvisation, whether or not they are.

Because of his command of the piano, Solal is often compared with Art Tatum. Fair enough; what jazz pianist of his generation with the technical ability to emulate Tatum was not under the influence of that master? Bud Powell is less often mentioned as a component of Solal's musical makeup, but on this night at the Vanguard, Powell was a beatific presence peering out of Solal's solos. A listener might also hear traces of other pianists of several eras and styles; Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Al Haig or Solal's young countryman Michel Petrucciani. Still, when this CD ends, Solal has confirmed yet again that he is unclassifiable, a thorough original.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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