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Jay McShann: Solos & Duets

The history of jazz exhibits extraordinary condensation. Whereas in literature a stylistic evolution that took five centuries (say, Chaucer to Joyce) in jazz took 35 years (say, Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman). For this reason, it is possible for living jazz musicians to sound ancient.

The piano of 90-year-old McShann contains enough elements of stride and boogie-woogie (oom-pah left-hand bass lines, single-note upbeats cycling around and around to triad downbeats) to sound dated to the modern ear. Yet the gap is not unbridgeable. McShann’s multidimensional, blues-infused language makes pieces like “Willow Weep for Me” and “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” sound definitive and complete in their overarching classicism. (The latter has Don Thompson on bass, whose presence on seven tunes creates the fortunate effect of liberating McShann’s left hand.) McShann even plays “‘Round Midnight,” albeit in a smoothly rolling version.

This two-CD set contains music from three LPs released in 1978 and 1981. Sackville has done it on the cheap. The sound is lusterless, and the original liner notes are simply reprinted, missing an opportunity for a McShann authority to provide some historical perspective, fill us in on the last 25 years and perhaps help bridge that aforementioned gap.

Originally Published