Jazz Hat combines pianist Mike Garson's legendary 15-minute solo improvisation on Gershwin themes, released in 1994 as a "direct-to-CD" single (RR-54CD), and most of an earlier "Record To Die For," The Oxnard Sessions, Volume Two (RR-53CD), Garson's 1993 collection of standards and originals with a small group. (To make room for the Gershwin, Garson's "Rebirth" and the two bonus tracks on Vol.2 from the 1990 sessions for Vol.1 have been omitted; Volume One of thi series our "Recording of the Month" for June 1991.) Erstwhile David Bowie sideman Garson's extraordinary facility with the keyboard has been documented many times in these pages; suffice it to say that his technique is always subservient to his music making. Alto-sax player Eric Marienthal's soaring reading of Leon Russell's "A Song for You" has long been a favorite demonstration track, but the highlights for me are Miles Davis' "All Blues," which features nonpareil bassist Brian Bromberg, and the breakneck reworking of Art Blakey's "A Night in Tunisia." Recorded in 1992 by Keith Johnson, the sound shows no audible sign of its vintage, offering superb clarity, luminously natural tone colors, and the sense of four musicians performing in a believable space, in this case the Civic Auditorium of Oxnard, California. A 75-minute master class in how to capture both the impact of and the space around a small jazz ensemble. (XVI-6, XIX-2)
I learned long ago to take seriously any e-mail announcement by Janice Mancuso of Reference Recordings. This past year I got very excited when she notified me that Keith O. Johnson, the label's recording engineer, had recorded a solo pipe organ in the same hall in which he'd recorded my favorite choral work, John Rutter's Requiem (an earlier R2D4 of mine). I was not disappointed. While Johnson reproduces the instrument's deep-bass pedal notes, it's the midrange and treble that captivate me. Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata 1 captures what I hear in live organ recitals but very rarely from recordings: the mixture of brightness and color, with none of that hard, edgy, irritating quality. When I crank up the volume, the music becomes more dynamic without becoming harsh. Although La Montaine's Even Song is played quietly, the final low-pedal note shakes my room. The disc ends with the ever-popular Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony 5, played with a mixture of joy, enthusiasm, brightness, and superb technical skill that is breathtaking.
Labels: Jazz Hat, Mary Preston, Mike Garson, Organ Odyssey, Records To Die For, Stereophile Magazine