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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Handful of Keys (Blue Engine)

Review of album by Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis featuring six pianists

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Cover of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra album Handful of Keys
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra album Handful of Keys

An unlimited number of possibilities rest within the piano’s 88 keys, and this survey of a century’s worth of jazz piano offers proof of that fact. Six pianists of various vintage, background and taste rotate on and off the bench here, joining Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in an engaging program that moves from stride to outside without a hitch. Bright light Isaiah J. Thompson makes his mark on a broadened journey through Fats Waller’s “Lulu’s Back in Town” and a bluesy-and-proud take on Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom.” Helen Sung flies with grace and hammers with gusto on her own expansive arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s “Four by Five,” and Dan Nimmer occupies his usual perch within this top-tier outfit for a snazzy nod to Wynton Kelly in the form of “Temperance.”

Dick Hyman serves as the elder statesman of the bunch, flexing his encyclopedic fingers on a jaunty trip through James P. Johnson’s “Jingles” and an organically swinging “All of Me,” while wunderkind Joey Alexander, who juxtaposes his own mindset against Bill Evans’ ideals on Walter Blanding’s arrangement of “Very Early,” represents the other side of the age spectrum. Every pianist on the program makes a firm impression, but the MVP award ends up going to Myra Melford, for her thoroughly engaging, outside-the-box explorations on “The Strawberry.” Ted Nash’s charged arrangement accentuates Melford’s musical identity, honoring her creative spirit and leaving space for her intelligently audacious statements to shine through.

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