In concert Martial Solal is extraordinary. It’s not just his virtuosity and technical dexterity: those who are prepared to follow his intellect and inspiration are taken on an astounding journey at each performance. He is little known in the UK, but I have never forgotten hearing him a few years ago on a BBC broadcast from Bath. Then there was a wonderful set with the Moutin brothers at the Barbican in 1999. Later, as Wayne Shorter’s guest in 2005, he opened with an extraordinary 30 minute extemporisation on Ellington’s ‘Caravan’, which left the more grounded in the audience at the starting blocks! He then followed up with a duet concert with Shorter and a solo concert the next night, both gems.
Last year his King’s Place solo concert delivered beyond what one might reasonably expect – it was marvellous in its invention, humour and joyfully tangential interpretations of the standards. He playing is perhaps best appreciated in solo and small group settings – duets with Lee Konitz, Joachim Kuhn and Johnny Griffin are all worth tracking down on CD.
The most important of his solo recordings is the 2-CD set ‘Martial Solal improvise pour France Musique’ on JMS (above), selected from around 30 half-hour live studio broadcasts from 1993-94 – a formidable challenge for Solal, which was beautifully met; improvisation of incredible breadth and ingenuity; not a wasted note. ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ from 2001 on Blue Note captures well the flavour of his trio, not necessarily easy, quite spiky in places.
This true genius of the piano will never have sounded better than in Vikram Seth’s “sacred shoebox of chamber music,” the Wigmore Hall.