IT MAY NOT BE by accident that the word "jazz" has been omitted from the titles of Masters of the Modern Piano and Chick Corea, Herbie Hancook, Keith Jarret, McCoy Tyner , two recent reissue anthologies that attempt to trace the development of the jazz keyboard over the last 20 years. Jazz buffs tend to be very commited to their music and its practitioners; deleting any sort of qualifier from these two album titles is a very subtle way of suggesting that the top-flight jazz pianist can hold his own with his classical counterpart.
That would certainly seem to be true in case of the late Bud Powell, who appears, along with Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Wynton Kelly and Mary Lou Williams, on Masters of the Modern Piano (Verve VE-2-2514). Powell was both a stupendous technician and an extraordinarily fecund improviser, and though the six selections included here are not his finest, they do offer an idea of the astonishing things Powell could do with a song, any song.
It may seem odd to include iconoclast Cecil Taylor in the same anthology with Powell, but in 1957, when "Mona's Blues" and "Tune Two" were recorded, Taylor hadn't yet rejected the term "jazz" or made complete his break from the jazz mainstream. The three selections featuring Taylor and his group were recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival, and they include a quirky reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately" - about as traditional a piece as can be imagined.
The material featuring Mary Lou Williams and Wyonton Kelly is not especially interesting, but the selections credited to Bill Evans and Paul Bleys, one of jazz's most consistently underrated pianists, are. Bley, who had done much of his recent work in the solo format, plays sympathetically wiht clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and bassist Steve Swallow on "Carla" and opts for a more stoic approach on Giuffre's "Whirr." Evans offer beautiful versions of two very familiar standards in his segment of this fascinating sampler.
Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarret McCoy Tyner (Atlantic SD 1696) investigates the work of four younger pianists who might be seen as Powell's descendants. The influence is perhaps most pronounced on Jarret's "Margot" and "Love No. 1." but it can be discerned even in McCoy Tyner's pre-modal reading of John Coltrane's "Lazy Bird" and Dave Brubeck's "in Your Own Sweet Way," two 1960 recordings that have never before been released.
There's not much to be learned from the Corea portion of this album - it's the third time "Tones For Joan's Bones" and "This Is New" have been released - but the Hancock numbers, orginally recorded under bassist Ron Carter's name, are quite instructive. As excessive and simple as his recent work on electric piano and synthesizer has been, that phase of his career in which he concentrated on the acoustic piano was unusually rich and imaginative. These selections remind us of the talent that's being wasted.
Except for Powell, who died in 1966 at age 41, all the pianists mentioned above are currently active. Their new released include:
Bill Evans: Montreux III (Fantasy F-9510). In these sparkling duets with bassist Eddie Gomez, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975, Evans offers a particularly entrancing display of the lyrical, reflective playing that is his hallmark. The selections, ranging from Cole Porter's "I Love You" to the Brazilian ballad "Minha," are themselves lovely, but they are made even more graceful and supple by Evan's well-placed melodic embellishments and his rich harmonic invention.
McCoy Tyner: Focal Point (Mile-stone M-9072). Because his technique and modal-minded improvisations are so powerful, it's often easy to overlook McCoy Tyner's other talents - such as his remarkable gift for composition and arrangement. The huge block chords and dazzling scales of "Parody" not withstanding, this is an album that seems to give more importance than usual to Tyner's writing and arranging skills. The tender "Theme for Nana," which opens with an airy flute lead line, is an example of his strong melodic sense; "Mes Trois Fils" and "Departure," which features a nine-part reed arrangement, demonstrate that Tyner can get more out of a horn ensemble than any other major pianist.
Paul Bley: Alone Again: Solo Piano (Improvising Artisits IAI 3738-40). The solo piano album is probably the format best suited to Bley's meditative, somewhat detached temperament and style. Solo improvisation allows him both freedom and space; the latter is especailly important, since in a typical Bley piece the pauses are meant to convey as much as the played passages. Bley's sound throughout this album is strikingly austere, a masterful example of music pared down to essentials.