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Charles Gayle: Jazz Solo Piano

There is nothing on Charles Gayle’s previous piano recordings that indicated that he could sustain an entire album of solo pieces, let alone a program comprised primarily of standards. On mid-’90s albums like Unto I Am and Daily Bread, Gayle summoned fire and brimstone from the keyboard when he wasn’t meandering introspectively. Regardless of mood, they were forgettable performances. While the durability of Jazz Solo Piano is dubious, there is no question that Gayle’s facility will blindside even longtime listeners.

Despite Gayle’s occasional incandescence, you don’t have to be a tough judge to nick him on the fine points of jazz piano. Gayle seems to be periodically unaware that the composition itself can carry much of the load, as he rushes to fill every nook and cranny of a tune with frequently distracting trills and runs. His pedal technique is leaden, which often underlines a coarse attack. While he has sure time and precision in his left hand whether playing stride or Taylorish octaves, it is either tightly scripted or completely uncorked, with few zones of inventiveness in between.

Yet the program is studded with enough bright moments to hang a liberal jury. Particularly on John Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris,” Gayle has a winsome way of veering in and out of a tune. On “Cherokee,” he demonstrates an ability to propel a piece phrase by phrase, shifting gears as often as a Tour de France bicyclist. As a composer, Gayle plies his yeoman skills to create quirky tunes like “Chapter Green” and charming pieces like “1939.”

Jazz Solo Piano certainly doesn’t vault Gayle up through the ranks of jazz pianists, but it is not the rank offense some may have anticipated.

Originally Published