AOM Logo February 1999


Dick Hyman in Recital

Reference Recordings RR-84CD

Playing Time: 63:16


Michael McLennan

Record Cover

In the world of jazz piano, there is a thin line between brilliance and gaudiness. As we look through the course of jazz history, we find few pianists who can express their genius without exceeding the bounds of good taste - JellyRoll Morton, James P. Johnson and Art Tatum, among others. To this exalted list, we can add Dick Hyman.

Known primarily for his work with filmmaker Woody Allen, Dick Hyman has had a hand in just about every avenue of American music. Hyman has collaborated with the likes of Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, performed on Broadway and scored for TV and film. Dick Hyman In Recital gives us an opportunity to hear a brilliant pianist at his best, playing a magnificent instrument and set in an acoustically exquisite setting.

Hyman's recital opens with the standard, The Way You Look Tonight, immediately highlighting his pianistic influences - Tatum, Gershwin, Monk and even Bach's stamp are readily apparent. Hyman blazes chorus after chorus with a myriad of ideas that are glued together by a reoccurring mid-range trill. The recapitulation features some contrapuntal experiments that lead to a perfect ending, brief and to the point. It all makes for a delightful opener.

A personal favorite of mine is Kurt Well's Lost In the Stars. Hyman's version does not disappoint. His performance not only captures the melody, but also reminds the listener of the lyrics. Tea for Two is an admitted tribute to Art Tatum. The track opens with a near note for note reading of Tatum's 1953 arrangement, no small feat in itself. The piece expands and begins to weave a web of keys and ideas that astounds. Hyman's hands have such independence, yet are always working together towards a common sound. So it continues with Odeon, a charming tune that defies any conventional description.

Throughout the recording, even during Hyman's wildest improvisation, the melody is never subdued. At times it may be hidden and understated, or twisted into some bizarre aberration of the original, but it's always there. When playing standards such as The Song Is You or Lover, the audience usually knows the melody and can follow obscure improvisation more easily. In the case of an original composition, it is easy to lose them. Knowing this, Hyman stays close to the melody of the new material. By the end, I'm sure every audience member could hum it back to him.

Shenandoah, an old western folk song of unknown origin, is the prettiest piece presented here. It's as if Debussy met Copland. This particular track highlights the exquisite sound of this recording. The nine-foot Bösendorfer is capable of a beautiful tone, and unlike most jazz recordings that close mic the piano, the hall's ambiance and boundaries are defined clearly. Reference Recordings has adopted an unorthodox method of reproducing solo piano recitals. The performer plays a modern piano, but a model that can record internally. To quote the Reference Recordings' web site : "Hyman's solo performances, encoded on the Bösendorfer computer reproducing piano, were played back live for our microphones. For the Direct-to-CD (DCD) editions, the digitized signal was transmitted via microwave to the CD glass master as the music was happening. No recording tape of any kind was used, nor was the digital bitstream corrupted at any stage by copying or editing. The very digits generated at the recording session are engraved on the finished DCD."Try to imagine what Glenn Gould would have done with a toy like this!

The album ends with an unrestrained version of James P. Johnson's Carolina Shout. It is with this cut that we realize that Dick Hyman is not Superman after all! In the excitement of a quick stride style, with hands flailing and feet stomping, we hear the album's first imperfections. Nothing major, just a few clusters of notes, but enough to show that Mr. Hyman is at the controls, not Herr Bösendorfer.

The CD did leave me feeling a little sad. After hearing such spirited performances, I expected the final chords to be followed by thunderous applause. Instead, there was only silence broken by the whirring sound of my CD player's motor. It was as though Dick Hyman threw a party and nobody came.

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