Martial Solal, Solitude

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Among fellow pianists and throughout Europe, the Algerian-born and Paris-based Martial Solal has an almost unequalled reputation as one of jazz's greatest instrumentalists. He possesses everything anyone could ask of a pianist: stunning technique, vast harmonic imagination, a polished tone and an immediately recognizable style.

A collection of solo pieces performed by the French great.

As sophisticated a reassembler of jazz repertoire as any pianist since Art Tatum (albeit one with decidedly more French musical sensibilities), Solal blends three original compositions with six standards to construct the aptly titled Solitude, a collection of solo pieces.

In many ways, “On a Clear Day” is the epitome of Solal's art. He leaves the essence of the tune uncompromised, but Solal's slight harmonic reworking brings beautiful elements of the piece into sharper focus. He plays Ellington's “Caravan” as a disjointed, dizzying series of melodic segments while “Solitude” is as much Ravel as it is Duke. And Jimmy Van Heusen's “Darn That Dream” is stately and rhapsodic — the playing of a piano master with both an understanding of the music's history and the imagination to expand on what went before.

Martial Solal is among the rare breed of virtuosi who can play supportively and with great restraint in a group, but it's a pleasure to hear him play solo, in a context where the only restrictions placed on him are those he himself imposes.