Benny Green solo piano
Pizza Express Dean Street. 11 November 2023. EFG LJF. Review by Ian Latham)
Benny Green’s lunchtime performance at Pizza Express Soho jazz club was quite a contrast with the opening Gala Jazz Voice performance. Whereas the kick-off event of the London Jazz Festival on Friday night boasted over 40 musicians on stage at the Royal Festival Hall , on Saturday lunchtime, one man alone at the piano was able to deliver the atmosphere, energy and soul of the finest hard bop quintets and big bands of the 50s and 60s.
Benny Green’s prodigious talent brought him regular work at a young age with some of the greatest jazz masters including Art Blakey, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Betty Carter, and Freddie Hubbard. Decades of first-hand experience with some of the biggest names in the music, have made him into one of the most accomplished pianists of his generation.
During the COVID lockdown, Benny spent his retreat time developing solo piano repertoire, and writing essays about his experiences with the jazz masters. He shared his progress on Facebook regularly. This process culminated in a solo piano album, “Solo” (link below) released earlier this year . So it was a real pleasure to hear him performing this repertoire live in London.
Over two sets he played twenty pieces, nearly all composed by his jazz piano heroes and mentors including Horace Silver, Duke Pearson, Duke Ellington, Dr Billy Taylor, Hank Jones, Bobby Timmons, Tommy Flanagan, Randy Weston, James Williams and Kenny Barron. His love of and devotion to the repertoire of the hard bop movement of the 50s and 60s is a welcome contribution that helps keep this music vibrant today.
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His mastery of the tradition and the instrument are astonishing. His playing is characterised by a virtuosic but understated command of a wide variety of textures and techniques that allude to larger group performance styles. Whether playing quiet ballads with the lightest pianissimo, or shouting big band-like choruses in block chords with both hands, executing blistering up-tempo runs, sometimes in parallel with both hands, his improvisations are always immaculately phrased and underpinned by his impeccable swing feel and bluesy bebop vocabulary. This music is a precision art form where microsecond differences distinguish the best from the mediocre. Benny always manages to execute these subtleties perfectly and with impeccable taste.
Jazz is, at its heart, a collaborative music which frequently employs at least four musical brains to create the melody, the chords, the bass line, and the rhythm. So, the solo jazz pianist has an extreme challenge, as they need to do the work of four brains and would ideally have at least three hands. Benny Green handles this challenge as brilliantly as anyone alive today.
LINK: “Solo” on Bandcamp