RED GARLAND and Phineas Newborn are back after long absences. Adam Makowicz is a new find. And Hank Jones just keeps playing as if he were half his age.
No, they're not pro-football stars, vying for athletic glory on Sunday afternoons. They're jazz pianists who're each represented by outstanding new records.
Garland and Newborn rate first notice because of their sterling performances that mesmerized listeners 20 years ago.
As a mainstay of the Miles Davis Quintet from 1955 to 1957, Garland, 55, built a reputation with his vigorous and straightforward style. His jabbing melodies and lping rhythms helped characterize the Davis group, one of the most influential jazz ensembles of its time. He also has a halting ballad approach in which he seems to lightly pluck romantic melodies from the keyboard.
In his first new American records since the early 1960s, Garland shows that he still possesses his magical touch. Crossings (Galaxy GXY-5106) is a trio setting, showcasing the pianist with the impeccably performing bassist Ron Carter and Philly Joe Jones, also alumni of Davis groups (Garland and Jones played together with the trumpeter).
On Carter's "Railroad Crossing," the pianist's lilting melodies evoke the feeling of a tap dancer, single note line leading into throbbing block chords, which usher in a booming Carter solo. "Never Let Me GO" is taken at the deliberate pace and played with the feathery touch long identified with Garland.
Red Alert (Galaxy GXY-5109) puts Garland in a setting with three hornmen - cornetist Nat Adderley, tenor saxaphonists Harold Land and Ira Sullivan, backed by drummer Frank Butler and Carter. It's a situation that should bring out the best in the pianist, for in the past he always charged forward to meet the challenge of a trumpeter or saxaphonist. This time, however, his performances are lusterless, and so are the hornmen's.
Nevertheless, whoever chose to swing "The Whiffenpoof Song" should get credit. It has excellent material for ringing improvisation.
Beset by personal problems, Newborn has made his musical presence hardly known in recent years. It was only in 1977 that he left the West Coast to deliver his powerful, slashing, two-fisted keyboard style on th East Coast.
Look Out - Phineas is Back! (Pablo 2310-801) graphic evidence of his return. His playing on th record is reminiscent of the brilliant, overpowering and audience-dazzling performances he did in the mid-1950s when he first appeared in New York.
Accompanied by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jimmy Smith, Newborn shows off a variety of virtuoso effects - racing car tempos, torrential melodies, twisting rhythmic figures, broadly spaced harmonies, circuitous duel lines in the bass and treble nd roman candle cadenzas.
Newborn's piano style comes out of Art Tatum's ornamental melodic fashionings and Bud Powell's crisp rhytmic forgings. The amalgam comes together superbly in "The Man I Love," an expansive - and fresh - reading of a melody that's been overplayed. The stylistic blend also shines through in "Sometimes I'm Happy," which opens with a dazzling melodic flourish, then shifts to a strongly punctuated statement of the theme, followed by a skipping improvisation.
Phineas is indeed back - and in a strong way.
Another was pianist with a spellbinding technique in Adam Makowicz, a Polish citizen who made his American debut in 1977. He impressed audiences then during a 10-week engagement at The Cookery, a Greenwich Village restaurant, and the Newport Jazz Festival. Now his artistry is accessible to larger numbers through his album, Adam (Columbia JC 35320), an alluring recapitulation of past jazz piano techniques.
Makowicz says he's been inspired by Tatum. But there's other spirits in his playing - Eroll Garner, Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, perhaps Willie "the Lion" Smith, and certainly Chopin.
What a merger he makes of his influences. He plays "All the Things You Are" in stride style, as if Waller was moving throught his fingers making those oompah sounds. "Tribute to Erroll Garner" captures much of the lush harmonies and ethereal melodies associated with Garner. And "Jig-Saw Puzzle" is filled with delightful and delicate crossrythms.
Before any of the aforementioned pianists thought of making a move onto the national scene, Hank Jones was already there, taking an important role in the shaping of modern jazz piano. Not a major influence of a stature of Tatum or Powell, Jones, nevertheless, has shown that what it is to be a significant accompanist and a very good, if minor soloist.
His album, Tiptoe Topdance (Galaxy GXY-5108), is further proof of his distinction. Jones' style is one of understatement, clarity and delicacy. Even when he's swinging hard, his solos possess a choice elegance. On this solo record, where most pieces are of ballad or medium tempo, his playing is deeply soothing, whether he's playing "Emily" or the spiritual "It's Me Oh Lord."