Erroll Garner – Nightconcert – Octave Music/Mack Avenue Records 

More than five decades later, a live concert of a jazz legend is released.

Erroll Garner – Nightconcert – Octave Music/Mack Avenue Records MAC1142LP [7/13/2018] double vinyl, 79:34 *****:

(Erroll Garner – piano; Eddie Calhoun – double bass; Kelly Martin – drums)

Coming from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was understandable that Erroll Garner would be compared to another Steel City legend, Earl “Fatha” Hines. The diminutive Garner (who attended the same high school as Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal) developed a specific playing style. Utilizing right hand octaves and expanding the  stride influences of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, Garner channeled a frenetic virtuosity combing various cross rhythms and time signatures with melodic improvisations. His three decades of recording (Mercury, Columbia, Blue Note, Verve, London and Savoy) placed an emphasis on swing and bebop-like freneticism. Perhaps more amazing is that he never learned to read music (which became a subject of the documentary No One Can Hear You Read).

Many people are aware of Erroll Garner for composing the ultimate ballad standard, “Misty”, or for his numerous appearances on the Tonight Show (Johnny Carson was a huge fan). But his reputation was forged from his electrifying live performances in various trios. In 1955 he released Concert By The Sea which was the best-selling jazz album at the time. Garner also released a live performance from the 1962 Seattle World Fair (One World Concert). His technical expertise and inventive musical adaptations put him in the rarefied company of pianist like Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. Garner received a star on the Hollywood Walk withFame and enjoyed a brilliant career that was cut short at the age of 53 in 1977.

Fortunately, jazz lovers and historians have formed the Erroll Garner Jazz Project to preserve his legacy. The first Garner reissue (on Octave Music) was The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015, followed by Ready Take One (2017). Now a third gem has been uncovered, a 1964 previously unreleased live performance by Garner and his trio in 1964. Recorded at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Erroll Garner: Nightconcert is another shining example of jazz artistry. Backed by Eddie Calhoun on double bass and Kelly Martin (drums), Garner rips through a set of standards (some well known, others eclectic) and two originals. In signature Garner bravado, he opens the concert with a jazz abstraction that morphs into Rodgers & Hart’s “Where Or When” (from the Broadway show Babes In Arms). Eschewing the loping sentimentality, Garner cuts loose with swelling chords and precise notation while his bass player and drummer keep up. Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love” is not the least bit schmaltzy, full of syncopated rhythms, “vocalizations”, cool left hand bass and up tempo attitude with a moody ending. In 1958, Miles Davis reinvented the obscure film song “On Green Dolphin Street”. It subsequently became a jazz standard. Here, Garner chooses to follow a different interpretation with big time swing dynamics, punctuated stops and percolating solos.

In a change of pace, the self-written “A New Kind Of Love” (from the movie of the same name) is atmospheric and elegant, with trills and descants. Side B kicks off with another “mystery” intro that with the help of Calhoun and Martin glides into the “main” verse of Cole Porter’s “Night And Day”. Garner maintain’s the “uptown” Latin flair, but with percussive resonance and intriguing chords. His solos seem to intermingle bluesy left-hand chording with right hand runs. Porter’s compositions reflect transitions that are perfect for improvisational players. Without liner notes, the listener would never guess the identities of these songs (as they begin), which only adds to the spontaneous excitement of an EG concert. “Cheek To Cheek” (which many associate with Fred Astaire) has a complicated, low-key start, then Garner takes the Irving Berlin jauntiness to a potent acceleration. In the first of two Gershwin numbers, “My Funny Valentine” begins with the bridge and then Garner executes a complex time signature (especially on bass notes) that is inherently melodic and punctuated. The ability to use separate tempos in each hand is impressive.

Garner’s mixture of bluesy nuances and large flourishes make the obscure 1937 piece, “Gypsy In My Soul” compelling. The pianist’s furious swing vibe is on full display. Switching to an original, “Amsterdam Swing” turns near classical avant-garde exploration into a finger-snapping, tough medium swing with a classic fluid solo. “Over The Rainbow” is iconic and now it is jazz history in the hands of Erroll. On another Porter tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, the dramatic context is hinted at in the first part, but a jazzy, up tempo arrangement takes over with chord changes and restrained flourishes.  Movie audiences were mesmerized by the 1944 film noir, Laura, as well as the haunting theme song by David Raskin. Of course, the audience doesn’t applaud until after the initial improvisation when they finally recognize the melody. Garner envelops the song with his sophisticated technique and lilting touches.. “When You’re  Lover Has Gone” is geared toward traditional stride and it sounds like Garner is having a ball with this one.  With a deft touch for ballads, “No More Shadows” uniquely intermingles trilling runs with unusual chord exploration. His affinity for Gershwin is palpable on “’S Wonderful”. After a quick crescendo, Garner and the trio sprint to the finish line. His rhythmic ferocity (chords and individual notation) is inspirational and has a clever winding down. The finale, “Thanks For The Memory” (yes, the Bob Hope theme song) is under a minute and a rare touch of “goofiness”.

Octave Music and Mack Avenue  Records have done a terrific job in resurrecting this rare live recording to modern vinyl (which includes a digital download). It is an historical document of a legendary jazz pianist. The double gatefold with stylish embossing is as classy as the performer. There is a full-size booklet with photos of  Garner in a tuxedo. The liner notes are incisive and there is a reproduction of the original program with a hand-written note from Garner. As long as there are organizations like the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, the cultural impact of jazz will remain.    Erroll Garner’s Nightconcert

TrackList:
Side A: Where Or When; Easy To Love; On Green Dolphin Street; Theme From A New Kind Of Love
Side B: Night And Day; Cheek To Cheek; My Funny Valentine
Side C: Gypsy In My Soul; That Amsterdam Swing; Over The Rainbow; What Is This Thing Called Love
Side D: Laura; When Your Lover Has Gone; No More Shadows; ’S Wonderful; Thanks For The Memory

—Robbie Gerson

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