ERROLL GARNER - Magician
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ERROLL GARNER - Magician

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It’s been said that everyone should own at least one Erroll Garner recording and for most people that will be his magnum opus `Concert by the Sea`. After that, adding any one of his remaining albums would be sufficient to bottle his magic except for completists who are compelled to hang on every note. If you are one of those then it’s your birthday because Mack Avenue are in the process of re-issuing twelve of his later albums and the first of these to come my way is his final studio album, recorded four years before his untimely death at the age of 55.

So much has been written about Garner over the years, so much praise heaped on him that all analyses of his style have become clichéd and all superlatives exhausted but perhaps his most perceptive critic was the writer who rather irreverently described him as `a brilliant deceiver`. The American jazz columnist Whitney Balliett, writing in the 1960’s, felt that though Garner’s brilliance remained undiminished throughout his career his style remained essentially the same with his later work “toppling over into self-parody” and that he approached each melody as though it was a “hat-rack” on which to drape familiar mannerisms. Garner’s admirers would never agree to such an assessment but there can be no doubt that his playing was formulaic notwithstanding the energy and ingenuity he invested in each performance. But, as his most enthusiastic adherents might say, “What a formula!”

All the familiar features of his style are on display here from the teasing opening cadenzas which miraculously segue into chugging versions of songbook favourites, the hair-raising dynamics and nerve tingling tremolos, the layers of neo-baroque improvisation overlaid with expressive vocalisations: a sound so rich and monumental that bass and percussion is almost rendered redundant.

Apart from being Erroll’s studio swansong this session is significant that the playlist includes four self-penned originals apart from the usual a slew of standards. Of these a gospel inflected tune, `One Good Turn` utilises organ cadences and tambourine to enhanced atmospheric effect whilst elsewhere the combined percussive forces of the estimable Grady Tate, the hugely dependable, Bob Cranshaw and the propulsive Jose Mangual add an extra dimension of forward momentum to the ever driving mix.

The set opens with Bacharach and David’s `Close to You`, a lachrymose pop hit, which is redeemed with a beneficial shot of rhythmical testosterone, and closes with a bouncy original that wasn’t included in the original album – the sleeve notes of which can be accessed by visitingwww.errollgarner.com/ORS. In between there are tunes by Kern, Gershwin and other Tin Pan Alley notables, making for a nicely balanced, well recorded session that also stands as testimony to the talents of its original producer and civil rights pioneer, the late Martha Glaser.

Read Article: Jazz News