If you’ve lost track of Kirk Lightsey, you are not alone. He was part of the scene back in the day. He played with everybody: Chet Baker, Kenny Burrell, Clifford Jordan, Blue Mitchell, Sonny Stitt, Woody Shaw. He was Dexter Gordon’s pianist between 1979 and 1983. But he’s lived in Paris for almost 30 years. I Will Never Stop Loving You is a bolt from the blue. Lightsey came so close to being forgotten that he now feels like an exciting new discovery—if you can be an exciting new discovery at 84.
The opening title track is an obscure tune by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn from the 1955 film Love Me or Leave Me. Doris Day sang it, wistfully. But in Lightsey’s hands no song stays wistful. Translated into his blocky, angular piano language, sentimental songs become darkly passionate. His hard touch reminds you of Monk. But Lightsey’s startling chords pursue their own logic.
He has said, “My whole life seems to be about … patience.” As he slowly proceeds through a song, he often hesitates, patiently awaiting the next idea. The silences are suspenseful. But the wait is usually rewarded. When Lightsey finds a melody, he carves it in granite.
Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” is perfect for him because it is already tonally ambiguous, one of Shorter’s most mysterious works. Lightsey’s interpretation, with its pregnant pauses, proves that starkness and lyricism can coexist. His version of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is highly unusual. Most performances of this iconic, famously difficult piece are headlong sprints over all the chords flying by. Lightsey plays it haltingly, with almost no single notes.
The recorded sound of this album brilliantly captures the relationship between a deeply expressive artist and a wonderful Fazioli piano.