Traditionally honored as the symbol of Britain’s invincibility as a warring nation, the lion was further ennobled in 1966, when Alan Bates’ Black Lion label released a double album of solos by Willie “The Lion” Smith, one of the foremost masters of stride piano. In the years since, Bates has issued many other albums devoted to jazz pianists, both in solo performance and in trio settings, and in this aptly named anthology we find an appealing assemblage of both pacesetting originators and newer lights of more modern persuasions. Quite appropriately, the set opens with five classic Art Tatum V-Disc tracks from the mid-’40s, which lead seamlessly into two sparkling medium-tempo tunes by Teddy Wilson. These in turn are followed by three numbers each from Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, with the former so effusive in his self-absorbed, palpably manic vocalizing that he virtually overpowers his far more important work at the piano, unfortunately here an ill-tended barroom fixture that only his genius could bring into line. By comparison, Monk seems almost conservative, though no less incisive.
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