"Storytime" by Billy Lester

A smoking addition to the great legacy of solo piano

The May, 2013 release of Billy Lester’s “Storytime” was a welcome addition to the great corpus of solo Jazz piano. It is masterful and meticulous, skilled and sonorous, paced and powerful.

The album’s progression is set up as a bedtime narrative, a stream of consciousness narrative. Transitions are intentionally absent and the texture often becomes more dream-like than story-like. The vocabulary and tone, scenery and imagery are thoughtfully established in the opening track entitled “Prologue.”

Immediately following is “Lullaby” which is not as serene as it is hypnotic. The chord progressions are given a delicate touch that manages to soothe despite the packed chords.

“Lightning Man” and “Ode to Bud Powell” are adventurous forays into what Howard Mandel calls “connoisseur Jazz.” Lester takes us on a ride with raw and (in “Ode to Bud Powell”) extravagant approaches. The rapid-fire attack is brilliant.

He can turn in a Jazz nocturne like “Under the Stars” or go for a bit of light-hearted romp in “Dark Streets” or offer the listener something more melodic like “Color Red.” He creates a film noir feel with “Bonanza” in which one expects to see the conjuring of Bogart and Bacall (or Peter Lorre). The left-hand pacing is delightfully dark.

Lester displays another tribute piece in “Sal Mosca,” another ode but this time to his long-time mentor. It is Lester’s recollection of his teacher without being maudlin but instead celebrates Mosca’s approach.

“Encore” is the final payoff of this remarkable album. It is full of vibrancy and touching torment as is the whole album—a late-night reverie of sound.

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Travis Rogers