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July/August 2005

Various Artists
Rockin' the Spirit: Piano Blues, Boogie & Spirituals
Chesky Records

Rockin' the Spirit: Piano Blues, Boogie & Spirituals is old school and proud of it. Five piano ticklers including Eric Reed, Johnny O'Neal, Monty Alexander, Bob Seeley and Mark Braun celebrate neglected stylistic idioms that deserve a brushing off. Solo piano of this nature took quite a hit by the time bop rolled around and it never recovered its footing. That this collection of younger and experienced players, most of whom also practice contemporary jazz styles, remain obsessed with these older forms is a wonder in itself.

There's plenty of flashy two-handed keyboard action throughout; everyone gets to strut by himself-in the case of boogie-woogie, one pianist can sound like four as he constructs thick left-hand fortifications. Extra fun comes with the two duet performances: a romping "Fourplay Boogie Woogie" by Braun and Seeley, and the surprising choice of Benny Golson's hard-bop anthem "Whisper Not" with Reed and O'Neal in tandem. Genres cross: Seeley turns in a boogie version of "Amazing Grace," Jamaican-born Monty Alexander unites "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and "No Woman, No Cry." It's all evidence that, when executed with flair, the retirement age for style is indefinite.

Originally published in July/August 2005
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