Stanley Cowell: Games

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There are no bad Stanley Cowell albums. All of the pianist's leadership recordings are resplendent works of dazzling art. I don't say this about all jazz artists, since most have their moments of greatness and their misfires. Not so Cowell. Like McCoy Tyner, Cowell is percussive, robust, soulful and plays with a lovely lyricism enveloped by rich, stormy textures. And yet, when was the last time you heard someone raving about Cowell? This is unfortunate, since he should be acknowledged today as the jazz piano great that he is and always has been.

If you are unfamiliar with Cowell or his discography, a good starting place is Games. Recorded in Copenhagen in September 1991, the album on the Danish Steeplechase label features Stanley Cowell (p), Cheyney Thomas (b) and Wardell Thomas (d). It's hypnotically beautiful from start to finish, with songs twisting and turning and heading off on multiple melodic adventures. From there, you can go back in time to 1966 or forward to recent recordings.

On Games, Cowell composed Sienna: Welcome ot this New World, Games, Today, What a Beautiful Day, Orietale, Four Harmonizations of the Blues and From the Rivers of Our Fathers. Jimmy Heath wrote New Picture, Thelonious Monk wrote Four in One and Joe Henderson wrote Inner Urge.

Cowell's leadership albums are sensational but so are his sideman dates with Bobby Hutcherson and Harold Land from 1966 to 1968 and his work with equally unheralded trumpeter Charles Tolliver from 1967 to 2008 (both co-founded Strata-East Records). I'll have more favorites from Cowell and Tolliver in the weeks ahead. Both are exceptional. Both should be celebrated globally.

JazzWax clips: Here's the entire album in individual tracks. Just let it play, and soak in Cowell's art...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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