Album Review: Solo Live by Edward Simon

It’s somewhat surprising that Solo Live is Venezualan pianist Edward Simon’s first unaccompanied recording, after a stellar 30-year career in the bands of Greg Osby, Kevin Eubanks, Bobby Watson and Terence Blanchard, and 15 albums as leader.

It’s also a testament to the format’s challenges – not all pianists relish having to be the whole orchestra and rhythm section at once. It also assuredly demands what you bring to the table whilst keeping an eye and ear on all the moving parts.

A relative newcomer to solo recitals, Simon has spent the past couple of years focusing on the format.

Recorded at Oakland’s (Simon is a long-serving member of the West-Coast SFJAZZ Collective) Piedmont Piano Company on 27 July 2019, his 50th birthday, Solo Live has shades of near-contemporaries Jacky Terrasson and Brad Mehldau; there’s always a wish to entertain, it’s always swinging, ‘up’ without being obvious, and ballad playing is not the default setting.

On ‘Lush Life’, Simon’s ‘outside’ notes add to the rich brew, and each line is embellished by little melodic asides. Then a swinging vamp, expertly locking in the meandering middle section, pleasingly and briefly flirts with the stride piano style.

‘Monk’s Dream’ features some nice rhythm games and a slightly modified rhythmic stress on the head line that catches the ear. It’s playful without being self-consciously quirky – a tough balancing act. A mainly rubato ‘Monk’s Mood’ is played straight, faithful in all the key melodic areas, a wise and unshowy move.

‘Country’, the one original tune, has a flavour of Keith Jarrett’s work with Gary Burton. It’s catchy but the least edifying track on the album, no shame given the competition (Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, George Gershwin). It was originally recorded by Steel House, Simon’s trio alongside Brian Blade and Scott Colley, on their eponymous 2015 debut album.

A gorgeous slow take on ‘I Loves You Porgy’ (titled ‘I Love Your Porgy’ on Spotify!) with gently undulating chords, rounds off a refreshingly short album at just over half an hour. It doesn’t need any more – Solo Live is a brief but effortlessly enjoyable listen.

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