Jazz CD Reviews
Mike Garson – Jazz Hat – Reference Recordings
Published on March 5, 2008
(Mike Garson, piano; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Ralph Humphry, drums; Eric Marienthal, alto sax)
Keyboardist Garson first came to my attention in the 1980s hearing him perform live with the classically-slanted flute-heavy group Free Flight. They made some great recordings for the CBS label. After that Garson, who had studied with Lennie Tristano, did work in Hollywood and eventually became music director for David Bowie. He’s also performed with such people as Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Konitz and Martha Reeves. As is obvious, Garson is nothing if not versatile in the music styles in which he’s active. That’s the idea of the album’s title – though a performer who wears many hats, this time around he’s clearly wearing his Jazz Hat.
This is actually a reissue compilation, though it doesn’t look or sound like it. It takes an earlier Garson album for Reference and combines it with a special “CD Single” which was released in l994 using Reference’s “Direct-to-CD” technology. That one features a single track – Garson’s very imaginative arrangement called A Gershwin Fantasia – which runs only 14 minutes, and is performed as an unaccompanied solo on the Bosendorfer 275SE Reproducing Piano. The computerized piano allows perfecting every aspect of the performance on it before playing it back for recording, and in this case the bitstream data was sent by microwave directly to the CD mastering lab instead of committing to a storage medium. I gather that perfectionist approach (used on a few other Reference CDs) was not used on Track 7 of this compilation, which is probably a tape of the selection cut into the rest to create the full length program, just short of the 80-minute limit. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two versions.
While the Gershwin extravaganza sort of towers over the other eight selections, Garson’s quartet has a great sound, with wit and plenty of swing. One of his two originals demonstrates his love of emulating the style of Bill Evans – Waltz for Bill. The quartet’s treatment of A Night in Tunisia is respectful and suitably exotic, and so is the nearly ten-minute version of Miles’ All Blues, but his Nardis is totally disassembled in unique ways. The un-decoded playback of Reference’s HDCD discs sounds great, but every time I do a comparison on my player that lacks an HDCD decoder, I appreciate anew how much hearable enhancement in dynamics and resolution the decoder in my Oppo player imparts.
TrackList: Rumble; All Blues; It’s You or No One; A Song For You; Waltz for Bill; A Night in Tunisia; A Gershwin Fantasia; Nardis; Count Your Blessings.
– John Sunier