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Erroll Garner: Ready Take One

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Languishing on acetate for nearly 50 years, this previously unreleased cache of Erroll Garner recordings is a sort of Concert by the Studio, if you will, with commentary interposed. Half the material comes from a Chicago studio in late November 1967, with the rest from NYC in October 1969 and a trio of 1971 sessions, plus a straggler from Paris in spring 1969. So we’re talking late-period Garner, when one might have thought he had ditched the innovating and was glad-handing on the touring circuit, a notion this set quickly disabuses. Friend and manager Martha Glaser’s voice is heard throughout, and the running joke is that Garner and his configurations of bandmates-Jimmy Smith or Joe Cocuzzo on drums, Ernest McCarty Jr., Ike Isaacs, George Duvivier or Larry Gales on bass-rarely needed more than one take to nail down a number.

Little wonder given how on fire they are, and whatever mistakes occur tend to be a case of the musicians overexciting themselves with the obvious good humor in the air. The opening “High Wire,” from December 1971, is a Garner original, featuring a calm, well-configured introduction that is a model of musical design, all clear lines and angles. We expect something stately to follow, and instead the song chugs into a roiling rumba-like figure, with Garner playing impossibly virtuosic patterns that exchange one shape for another and cascade from the top to the bottom of the song. There’s an Art Tatum-esque effect, but the music never feels as resolutely jazzy as it does with Tatum. Perhaps it’s the wisp of proto-funk that’s detectable, but Garner has a way of being both entirely of jazz and not of jazz at all, his own distinct mélange.

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