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Larry Willis: My Funny Valentine

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Among his contemporaries Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern, Albert Dailey, Stanley Cowell and John Hicks, Larry Willis is one of the great stylists. On his debut CD as leader, recorded in 1988, when he was a mere 47, he shows why. Willis is a rugged individualist, as evidenced by his dramatic reading of the title track.

On solo piano tracks “Lazy Afternoon,” and “It Could Happen to You,” Willis plays with haunting beauty and lyrical swing. Joined by bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster for several standards and his own “Blues for Wynton Kelly,” Mr. Willis benefits from the empathetic accompaniment, and his solos, which are teaming with energy, abound in risk and surprise as well. Kenny Garrett is on board for three tracks, including an extraordinary duet Willis wrote entitled “Ethiopia.”

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