Jazz Album: SOLO LIVE (Edward Simon | Solo Piano)

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by Connor McCormick on October 13, 2021


Recorded at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano Company on his 50th birthday in 2019, Solo Live is Edward Simon’s first unaccompanied recording (and only his second album documenting a concert). Unedited, it’s a ravishing portrait of one of jazz’s most eloquent improvisers investigating a setting that’s become one of his primary outlets during the pandemic. Long leery of performing alone, a situation that leaves a pianist “really exposed,” he described the Piedmont Piano date as “a leap of faith.”

In 2020, Ridgeway Records released 25 Years, a two-disc anthology drawn from 13 earlier albums focusing mostly on his original compositions and arrangements designed for players such as tenor saxophonists Mark Turner and David Sanchez, altoists Miguel Zenón and David Binney, bassists Ben Street, John Patitucci and Joe Martin, and vocalist Luciana Souza and Gretchen Parlato. Without an illustrious supporting cast, Simon was left to his own devices on July 27th, 2019, a celebratory night surrounded by family and friends in Piedmont Piano Company’s piano-filled showroom.

While Solo Live reconfigures the order of the pieces he performed, the album reflects the concert’s carefully calibrated ebb and flow, with the first three tracks unfolding in the original sequence. Opening with a breathtaking version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Simon gives a master class in dynamics, flow, and melodic invention.

Simon has clearly assimilated the solo work of piano greats like Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea, who he credits with providing inspiration for his take on “Lush Life.” It’s the opening track on Corea’s Expressions, a 1994 solo piano album that also turned Simon’s ear to “Monk’s Mood,” one of Thelonious’s most sublime ballads. Simon displays exemplary patience as he strolls inquisitively through the melody, letting the tempo shift to accentuate Monk’s reverie. Simon digs into the knotty rhythms of “Monk’s Dream” while revealing the tune’s steely harmonic architecture. Swinging with authority, he captures Monk’s singular combination of sly, earthy humor and intellectual curiosity.

Simon’s composition “Country” is the album’s longest track. Originally recorded by Steel House on the collective trio’s eponymous 2015 debut album, Simon’s joyous solo rendition, with its spritely, spinning melody evokes the leaping sense of possibility inspired by moving across a sun-steeped landscape. It’s a piece that seems to call out for lyrics, and it’s likely Simon will record the tune again with Luciana Souza singing her original verse.

The album concludes much as it started, with a classic American ballad interpreted with patience and deep empathy. Simon caresses Gershwin’s astoundingly sad and beautiful “I Loves You, Porgy” with hushed intensity and tenderness.

Edward Simon Solo Live
Ridgeway Records
5 tracks | 32:02 | released October 15, 2021
visit Edward Simon

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