Erroll Garner – Nightconcert
(Mack Avenue MAC1142LP. LP Review by Peter Jones)
Let us now praise Gretchen Carhartt Valade, boss of the Carhartt workwear company and founder nearly 20 years ago of Detroit’s Mack Avenue record label. Mack Avenue has become the home for such important artists as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Jordan, Christian McBride and the Yellowjackets. They have also released music from jazz deities like George Shearing and now, with this largely unheard live concert recording, the mighty Erroll Garner. (Eight of the recordings were previously released outside the USA, but shorn of Garner’s inventive introductory statements, about which more below.)
Nightconcert is a lavish project: it consists of a double LP housed in a beautifully designed gatefold sleeve, with a thoughtfully-written and handsomely illustrated booklet, and including a reproduction of the programme notes in their original typewritten form. Not so much was known about what the great man was going to play on the night: the full description reads: “PROGRAM – First Group of Improvisations. Intermission. Second Group.”
No matter. Just before midnight on 7 November, 1964, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Garner took the stage with his collaborators of the last decade, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. One of the things that becomes immediately apparent is the sheer range of Garner’s playing, from the slick upswing of Where Or When and On Green Dolphin Street to the syncopated latin rhythms of Night And Day to the gorgeous, rippling balladry of Over The Rainbow. And genius though he was, like Oscar Peterson, Garner was also a crowd-pleaser. Not for him the hunched introspection of Bill Evans or the academic time signatures of Brubeck. The mood is warm and inclusive. Yes, the repertoire is a little hackneyed by today’s standards, but this was more than half a century ago. And the standards are interspersed with a couple of his own compositions – Theme From A New Kind of Love, Amsterdam Swing and No More Shadows.
Garner never learned to read music, but had a phenomenal memory for what he heard – the essential quality for an ‘ear-player’. His signature dragging of the right-hand while the left keeps more regular time is less in evidence here than on some of his earlier recordings, although you can hear it on A New Kind Of Love. He often invents intros that disguise what is to follow, teasing the audience and inviting bursts of applause once the familiar tune emerges. This is particularly notable on My Funny Valentine: following a strange intro sequence of big thumping chords, he gives the tune a rich, sweet, bluesy treatment.