Superior Gift: Piano CDs by Corea, Jarrett and Lubimov

Yeah, it took me a while to understand what I was listening to, or two, and why I kept playing a pair of paired discs time and again. (Okay, sorry, I will slow down.)

For much of this past month, I have been listening to passionate, impressionistic performances by several extraordinary piano players (plus one more).

This sequence of listening began when I attended a wonderful performance by Chick Corea and his friend and frequent collaborator, Gary Burton. They’ve been on tour with the Harlem String Quartet, presenting a remarkably consistent, and now quite differentiated, version of late 20th and early 21st century jazz. Corea is a tireless composer, a man filled with ideas, a creative person never satisfied with one course of action. Like Yo-Yo Ma, Bela Fleck (also a Corea collaborator), and others who have been performing for several decades, Corea has one career with Burton, another as part of a jazz trio (with Christian McBridge and Brian Blade), and still another with Bobby McFerrin. The Burton performance was stunning, perfect in its way, endlessly interesting, and sufficiently inspiring to make me want to see Corea in his other formats.

Which leads (at long last!) to the focus of this particular blog post, whose initial conception did not include Corea at all. Instead, it was to focus on Keith Jarrett, whose career has been somewhat more conventional in that he plays fabulous solo concerts–the newest being Rio, which was recorded in Rio de Janeiro–and as part of a trio with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on percussion. There are probably two dozen Jarrett solo recordings, and every one is similar, but in its way, exhilarating, original, compelling, and consistently inventive. This is probably one of the best of the lot, but there are so many fine examples, it’s difficult to choose (and you certainly won’t go wrong if you purchase any of them). Rather than recommending one or two, I think it’s wiser for me to point you to a page that lists all of them on the wonderful All Music Guide site.

Jarrett and Corea worked together in Miles Davis’s band in 1970–a very long time ago in musical terms. It’s fascinating to listen to those nearly-a-half-century-old recordings, those initial flights into a fresher, freer, easier, less structured form of jazz and to consider the stops along the way, a way that has been so elaborately documented on some many recordings (for the most part, excellent recordings, with only the occasional excursion into dubious territory).

Now I find myself comparing Jarrett’s RIO with something much older, but very much from the same spring. Here, the composer is Claude Debussy. The pianist is Alexei Lubimov, sometimes playing his Bechstein beside another Alexei, in this case, Alexei Zuev, on his Steinway piano. Perhaps it’s the elegance, the presentation, the combination of control and fireworks, the seriousness… or the extraordinary skill that compels me to consider Debussy and Jarrett’s recordings as ideal companions for an extended listening session on a gloriously rainy or snowy afternoon. The latter is not new music–it predates Jarrett by more than a century–but the sense of freedom, the phrasing, the flights of fantasy and ecsstacy on, for example, “La puerta del vino,” sounds more like 21st century jazz to my ears than it sounds like traditional classical music.

At a certain point, writing about music really is like dancing about architecture, so I’ll stop here and not embarrass myself with a flurry of comments about Debussy’s individual preludes and how nicely they’re carried off by Lubimov on Preludes.

As the music begins to fade, and friends are pulling up to the house after a long drive (they’ll be hungry), allow me to simply recommend a pair of very good piano recordings, each a pair in itself (each is a 2-CD set), perhaps the ideal gift for just about anybody willing to take the time to really listen. Both packages are excellent.

Let me end with a note to myself: I need to learn a lot more about Alexei Lubimov, and spend time listening to his past work. He’s a new name for me, and after of month of listening to him play the piano, I am beginning to understand the many internet claims… he may be one of our contemporary keyboard musicians. I suspect Lubimov deserves a proper article of his own. Getting to work right now…

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