George Shearing always brought dignity, grace and elegance to his piano playing, and those traits abound in this set of 14 songs recorded at the late Englishman’s New York City apartment in 1983. With the sympathetic bassist Don Thompson as his sole accompanist and encourager, Shearing digs primarily into standards but also mixes things up with a few surprises, displaying the same breadth and scrupulousness to an audience of none that he would bring to the concert stage.
Shearing was never one for flamboyance or overindulgence; while not over-cautious or tame, he nonetheless prized meticulousness over the showy or the daring. That razor focus is in place from the start of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and it’s there in his animated take on Bird’s “Confirmation” as well as Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “The Things We Did Last Summer,” taken at a strolling, measured pace. Thompson, for his part, remains supportive and strong throughout, busting out when it’s solo time but otherwise largely laying back.
Shearing does on occasion open up, but even then he goes for radiance and delicacy over brashness or edginess: He treats “I Cover the Waterfront,” one of four solo-piano tracks, with the respect a classical pianist might give to Chopin or Brahms, and on Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” he makes his breakneck trills and bebop licks feel tossed-off, even though it’s obvious they’re anything but.