Florence: How do you define genius?
If Bob Florence isn’t a certifiable genius, there aren’t any. The immensely gifted pianist, composer and orchestrator is most readily identified as leader of an orchestra that pushes the envelope but always within the realm of good taste. However, as the title of this CD implies, here’s another side of Florence: a solo piano album.
A very special piano album, filled with grace and quiet, contemplative beauty and melodies structured to please even the most critical listener. Spontaneity is another word that fits because Florence plays the entire program of romantic ballads – 11 performances in all – without music. An idea becomes a note and a succession of an ideas becomes a complete interpretation of a song. It’s just simple and difficult as that.
Florence, who plays with a classicist’s touch, is not given to convention. His balladic treatment of the first track, Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” sets the tone for the entire album. And he when later follows with a subdued version of the theme from “M*A*S*H” and a less than jaunty reading of “Sentimental Journey,” you further appreciate his interest in remaining free of traditional thinking.
Further exploration of the recording shows Florence’s way of improvising over the chord changes of the chorus before launching into readily identifiable parts of the songs; his versions of “Chelsea Bridge” and “How Deep Is the Ocean” are prime examples.
And takes relatively unknown songs, mixes them with standards to create new melodies and then stitches tunes like “Laura,” “Stella By Starlight” and “Emily” into a seamless Enchanting Ladies medley.
Florence, like fellow pianist Dave McKenna, is big on theme medleys. Other examples: “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” is paired with “Sentimental Journey”; while his closing track, which he labels “Saying Goodbye” amounts to eight minutes of fond farewells: “Take Me Home,” “The Trouble With Hello is Goodbye,” “I Will Say Goodbye” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
In sum, the recording is a study in elegance delivered by an artist who is an artist in every sense of the word.
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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