Boyd Lee Dunlop – The Lake Reflections/ Solo Piano Reflections – Mr. B Sharp Records – 37:53 – ****1/2
To call Boyd Lee Dunlop’s emergence as a revelatory jazz pianist in his mid-80s is an understatement. Dunlop is the brother of famed drummer, Frankie Dunlop. Boyd only had two recording sessions with his last recording session being with Big Jay McNeely way back in 1953 (sixty years ago!). The Dunlops were a musical family with their father a guitarist. Boyd has been under the radar for years, having worked in the steel mills and rail yards after his brief recording history.
He was “re-discovered” by the staff of a nursing home in Buffalo in late 2011, playing an old out of tune piano, and his latent talent impressed the nursing home staff , who advised a free-lance photographer visiting the home, to listen to Dunlop play. The photographer, Brendan Bannon, was so impressed that he put Dunlop in a trio setting, and they recorded Boyd’s Blues.
Soon after Dunlop suffered a heart attack and almost passed away, and that would have been the end of this heartwarming story. But Dunlop is a survivor, and had more music to share with the world. A year later, he has recorded an eclectic eight-composition CD, The Lake Improvisations, inspired by Bannon’s photographs. Whereas Boyd’s Blues concentrated on blues-based piano trio, The Lake Reflections covers a wide range of styles from blues, gospel influence, and folk and classical themes.
Dunlop’s playing is hard to describe as it features improvisation of the highest order with powerful chording paired often at the same tune with gentle probing tender sections. Recorded in excellent fidelity at Soundscape Studio in Buffalo by Allen Farmelo and James Calabrese, and mixed by Farmelo in Brooklyn, it has the feeling of a recital. Demanding close listening, this is far from background listening with friends. Dunlop’s life experiences are poured out with deep emotion, moments of profound joy, and a deep appreciation of life and its ups and downs.
Opening with a brief tinkling “First Drops of Rain,” it progresses through a deeply moving “America the Peaceful,” which explores “America the Beautiful” mid-track, while going off in classical yet abstract directions.
“The Lake.” obviously inspired by Bannon’s photographs, mixes blues with tension and release lines that inspire. Dunlop often mentions “peace” in the well-written liner notes by producer Farmelo, and you can sense a reconciliation by Dunlop with his life’s story, lit by elderly wisdom.
You can also experience in Boyd’s themes, that although he enjoys playing for others, that he would still be content playing on a piano in the solitude of empty nursing home deeply lost in the moment pouring out his creativity and passion for an audience of one.
Other special compositions include “From the Creekbed” with its highly percussive lines in a classical motif, as well as the elegiac “Scattered Showers,” and the wistful “Snow on the Water.”
Listening intently to The Lake Reflections, the listener comes away with the appreciation that there are many other ruminations left in the fertile mind of Mr. Dunlop. Let’s hope that Boyd gets a chance to share them with us in at least a few more “reflections.”
I also come away with the hope and frankly the expectation that there are some other Boyd Lee Dunlops out there in quiet homes and even nursing home facilities waiting to share their craft with an appreciative audience. Just a few breaks and an “angel” are all that is needed to find the next Boyd Lee Dunlop. I hope so. In the meantime, thanks for sharing your “peace” with us, Boyd…
TrackList: First Drops of Rain, America the Peaceful, The Lake, From the Creekbed, Scattered Showers, Snow on the Water, Kick the Critic Out, Sunset Turmoil