CD REVIEW: Joe Albany – An Evening with Joe Albany

Joe Albany – An Evening with Joe Albany
(SteepleChase SCCD31794. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

American pianist Joe Albany (1924-1988) was a young man when he worked alongside Benny Carter, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. After a lengthy hiatus – during which his life was scarred by heroin addiction and psychological problems – he re-emerged in the early 1970s with an approach chock-full of influences from stride to post-bop.

An Evening with Joe Albany was recorded at the legendary Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen on 1st May 1973 when he was 49 years old. Most of the selections (mainly familiar show-tunes and jazz standards) were composed a few years before Albany first came to prominence in the mid-40s, and it’s something of a surprise that – in the city where Kenny Drew and Horace Parlan lived, and where Duke Jordan moved to a few years later – he chose to play no bebop-related compositions at all.

The opening medley of Vernon Duke melodies is typical of what follows. Lots of notes tumble around the chords of Autumn in New York; April in Paris is swathed in florid decoration, and Albany’s timing – unconstrained by other musicians – is all over the place on I Can’t Get Started. In a blindfold test, I’d have stabbed an incorrect guess at dozens of pianists from Bud Powell to Tony Lee before conceding that I was listening to Albany. That says something about my lack of familiarity with his work, but it also reveals his changing style and unpredictability.

The pianist rattles through the set with a strange kind of abandon: it’s more a carefree romp than stream-of-consciousness freedom, and it lacks penetration and nuance. With music like Everything Happens to Me and Our Love Is Here to Stay, it’s perfectly listenable, but Albany’s execution is rather crude throughout, and on several occasions he seems to lose his way or simply messes it up. The sleevenote says that this show was performed for “a small, appreciative audience”, yet there is no chatter, no clinking of glasses and no applause to be heard.

Many of the best moments come towards the end. In a Sentimental Mood is pretty straightforward; there are nice cascades during Prelude to a Kiss, and In My Solitude contains a decent improvisation. Despite their flaws, the relatively little-known Who Can I Turn To? (the song by Alec Wilder) and Jerry Herman’s She Walked into My Life are the only pieces that really move me.

17 tracks are crammed into less than an hour (only four exceed the four-minute mark); a more considered and thorough examination of fewer tunes might have been preferable. Nevertheless, this is a rare glimpse of Albany, and it may appeal both to completists and general listeners.

LINK: The 1980 documentary Joe Albany – A Jazz Life is on Youtube

Categories: miscellaneous

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