[JPL] One Man, One Piano, Many Possibilities

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 11 14:54:06 EDT 2007

October 11, 2007
Music Review | Martial Solal 
One Man, One Piano, Many Possibilities 
The pianist Martial Solal opened his week at the
Village Vanguard on Tuesday night by rolling through
tunes that jazz musicians have been amusing and
sharpening themselves with for 50 years or more. They
included “Cherokee,” “Body and Soul,” “’Round
Midnight” and “I Got Rhythm” — songs whose chord
changes built a whole suggestive vocabulary for

This is only the second time at the Vanguard that any
performer has installed himself for a week of solo
sets. (The pianist Fred Hersch did it last year.) But
Mr. Solal, born in Algiers, long resident in Paris and
a rare visitor to the United States, is used to this
discipline. He did it a lot in the 1970s, when solo
performances seemed a rich frontier for every kind of
jazz musician, and he has kept solo piano in his
portfolio ever since, alongside trios, big bands and
other possibilities.

What he did on Tuesday was to wander away from just
about every through line of these songs except the
chords. One of the world’s most imposing jazz
musicians — being 80 has not dimmed his agility or his
imagination — he interpreted each passing moment of
the songs as a provocation: spinning out a quick cycle
of chords from just one, or interrupting the shape of
a melody to add on a whole new structure, invented at
breathtaking speed.

It was easy to see him as a manic builder, a modernist
renovator, coming up with expansions and compressions
everywhere but somehow honoring the fundamental flow
and beauty of the building. He did take songs apart,
but he never entirely betrayed or abandoned them, and
you could quickly identify what he was playing.

The major precedent in this line of work is Art Tatum,
and the influence was clear. But the big differences
come from Mr. Solal’s economy and — of course — his
generation. His runs up and down the keyboard were
shorter than Tatum’s and sometimes full of bebop
logic; a lot of the complex, dissonant chords he kept
importing into the songs descended from 20th-century
classical music, Debussy and after. 

These were jittery miniatures with constant revisions.
You often heard a new idea fully engaged before the
last one was resolved. Sometimes the spray of wit, and
the constant rising and falling of tempo, became
wearisome. But not always. 

His “’Round Midnight” was astonishing for how long it
maintained its gorgeous, restful tempo, even when that
tempo was only implied. And because it was the longest
piece of the set, arriving a little more than halfway
through, you got the point: This was the apex, the
cresting time. Discursive as the performance was, it
had an arc. Mr. Solal is a master at this game.

Martial Solal continues through Sunday at the Village
Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th Street,
West Village; (212) 255-4037, villagevanguard.com.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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