PIANIST John Eaton practices a special kind of alchemy. He takes the familiar and makes it fresh, renders the old new and exciting. It's no easy trick, but Eaton is a master at it, and his new album, "John Eaton & Friends," captures the magic time and again.
There's hardly a tune on this live recording that you haven't heard countless times before -- "Night and Day," "I Got Rhythm," "Georgia on My Mind," "Yesterdays," nine performances in all. Yet you really haven't heard any of these pieces until you've heard Eaton play them.
"All the Things You Are" is typical of how he applies a tender yet daring hand to standards. The melody drifts in on gentle chords that gradually give way to bold harmonies and probing excursions before bassist Tom Cecil intervenes with a stirring solo.
Speaking of Cecil, listning to Eaton collaborate so effortlessly with his friends is a joy in itself. Cecil distinguishes himself on several tracks, not only as a sensitive accompanist but also as an inventive soloist on "My Shining Hour" and "Night and Day." Then, too, there is Wally Garner's warm clarinet, which beautifully enhances the lyricism and emotion Eaton brings to "Yesterdays" and "Blues for Chris."
Finally, jazz vocalist Linda Cordray's sultry reading of "I Got It Bad" and opera soprano Alessandra Marc's striking version of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" make this album, which was recorded at Washington's Embassy Row Hotel, all the more memorable.
JOHN EATON -- "John Eaton & Friends" (PJ Records); appearing Tuesdays through Saturdays, Wintergarden, Embassy Row Hotel. Eaton also appears this Sunday at 7:30, Baird Auditorium, American Museum of Natural History, in a program of Fats Waller and other jazz pianists of the Harlem School.