Shearing soars to new heights
Back to Birdland
What goes around comes around. That’s the way it worked out for George Shearing when he put in a deja vu appearance at Birdland in New York in recent months with a five-piece combo.
The remarkable English pianist, who had pared his quintet to a trio and occasional duo in recent years, is back in full swing with a fivesome on this occasion, and it’s a welcome return, indeed.
Two of his bandmates have worked with Shearing frequently in the past: bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. But vibist Don Thompson, who supplies the top notes, and guitarist Rob Schweger, who provides the bottom notes for the patented Shearing sound, are new to the quintet.
And with Shearing employing his distinctive locked-hand style, the group floats through such standards as “Sunday, Monday or Always,” “Just Imagine” and “That Sunday, That Summer,” a lovely ballad that Nat Cole recorded but otherwise has lain almost untouched.
Shearing essays “Joy Spring,” another tune that warrants more attention; a romping “Fly Me To the Moon”; Ellington’s sprightly “Drop Me Off In Harlem”; and the lyrical “High On a Windy Hill.”
However, the pianist who dislikes being called a bop musician, even though bop is in his blood, shows his true colors on a spirited version of Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee” and dresses Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” in a fetching new gown.
And just when it appears as though he will disappoint his audience by omitting his own composition, “Lullaby of Birdland,” the witty 82-year-old Englishman slips into the tune through the backdoor after teasing his listeners with opening strains of “Satin Doll.”
A very classy performance from a pianist (and his quintet) who seems to improve with age.
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. Write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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