For all his 60-plus years of work with ensembles large and small, it’s Martial Solal’s solo performances that remain his most consistently interesting. France’s premier jazz pianist has a gift for abstraction that flourishes when he can reshape time and melody solely at his own whim. Witness My One and Only Love, a marvelous unaccompanied performance recorded last fall in Gütersloh, Germany. The pianist’s renditions bring to mind the manifesto of the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe: seeing how far he can stretch a figure (or in Solal’s case a tune) and still leave it recognizable.
Solal retains the base form of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” with two devices: frequent reference to its title phrase and boisterous swing, though the latter can sometimes dissolve into fascinating amorphous rambles. “My One and Only Love” gets run-throughs of its A section in between single-note domino effects and fractured chordal plots; “All the Things You Are” begins with a captivating experiment in dynamics and resonance that evolves into a scattering of melodic tendrils over an oompah beat. “A Night in Tunisia,” on the other hand, remains coherent throughout, even when it digresses into minimalistic repeated figures.
Only one selection here is from Solal’s own compositional canon: the Powell-esque “Coming Yesterday,” which has an elastic approach to rhythm but is nonetheless defined by its lightning-fast runs. He also improvises “Köln Duet,” a motivic, harmonically free piece at a thoughtful pace. The album finds its center, however, in two remarkably different takes on “Frère Jacques,” both listed on the sleeve as “Sir Jack.” The first is an eerie fantasia that ends in a quote of the American hymn “Simple Gifts,” and the second is a lively, bouncy affair that feints toward the earlier eeriness but ends comically. (An eight-minute interview that closes the CD is similarly amusing.) At 90, Solal is still making tours de force.
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