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Ray Bryant: In the Back Room

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The dozen performances found on In the Back Room derive from a pair of concerts by the great, if still sorely underappreciated, pianist Ray Bryant at Rutgers University in 2004 and 2008. Together these tracks comprise a thoroughly enjoyable hour’s worth of solo jazz piano that seems to pass in half the time, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that Bryant often hews to a leisurely pace while revisiting pieces composed by two of his primary influences: James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.

On “Jitterbug Waltz,” Waller’s descending theme casually spins into the turnarounds before inspiring delightful melodic variations, and Bryant’s rendering of the same composer’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” casts the tune in an unusually soulful light. Johnson is likewise represented by a wonderfully evocative interpretation of “If I Could Be With You,” a performance that further illustrates Bryant’s stylistic reach in knowing, timeless, decidedly two-handed fashion.

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