CD review

Richard Michael – Contemplation

Richard Michael – Contemplation
(Self-released. CD review by Fiona Mactaggart)

Self-released on the occasion of Richard Michael’s 70th birthday, what a wonderful gift this solo double album is to himself, his family and those of us who love a gorgeous melody. 

Honorary Professor of Jazz at University of St Andrews, long-term leader of the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra, educator, composer, pianist, organist and famed improvisor, Kirkcaldy-based Richard Michael is, yes I will say it, a national treasure. And this long immersion in jazz has resulted in a real stunner of an album. 

In his highly personal album, Michael shares tunes by some of his musical heroes, predominantly pianists and lyrical composers, leavened with a smattering of hymns, traditional tunes and two homages to family members. From the off Michael demonstrates his trademark facility to slip easily between musical styles whilst never taking the spotlight off the melody.

On CD1 from the lovely opening Blackbird by Paul McCartney, to the simple figures of A Kwela For Caitlin composed for his youngest grandchild, this album is pervaded by a sense of affection, even love. 

The seven other tracks on CD1 rove via Richard Rodgers’ beautifully rendered I Could Write A Book, The Shadow Of Your Smile by Johnny Mandel and, in homage to his wife Morag, When All’s Said And Done with its almost unbearably beautiful ending, through to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and  toddlers’ favourite, Bryan Daly’s Postman Pat. Unexpected highlights for this listener were two hymns, We Plow The Fields And Scatter and What A Friend We Have In Jesus, linked by the lovely folk tune Waly Waly. How lucky is the congregation of the church where Michael is organist!

CD2 likewise soothes, from Chick Corea’s Spain to the partly hymnal George Gershwin Love Walked In. An Irish traditional The Lark In The Clear Air segues into yet another hymn, James Leith MacBeth Bain’s Brother James’ Air, both very lovely, followed by The Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis’ Django, paired with Django Reinhardt’s Nuages. 

Delectable melodies continue to abound as Michael proffers his version of Duke Ellington’s I Got It Bad, Fats Waller’s A Viper’s Drag, a further Rodgers tune, a delicate and hushed Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, and Herbie Hancock’s Dolphin Dance. His version of Jimmy McHugh’s On The Sunny Side Of The Street has now taken over pole position from this listener’s previous favourite interpretation by The Pogues, whilst Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day, according to the liner notes, opens in the key of B as a respectful nod to Bill Evans.

As one who for some years has tended to be somewhat nonplussed by marked lyricism in jazz, this reviewer experienced the mostly familiar melodies as somewhat of a balm, the apparent simplicity transmitting a sense of ease. Thus for those in search of calm, Contemplation might just fit the bill. 

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