A fully formed artist
From the Spring 2004 issue.
The Greatest Garner (Expanded and Remastered)
By the Erroll Garner Trio
Rhino / Atlantic Records: 2004 (originally released 1949)
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
One of the knocks against pianist Erroll Garner (1921-77) accused him of being nothing more than a "hyped-up cocktail musician." It's a good guess that opinion grew out of Garner's penchant for right hand flourishes, especially on the uptempo tunes, in combination with his delicately pretty approach to balladry.
But on "The Greatest Garner," the pianist's last record for Atlantic before he started his long, successful and lucrative career on Columbia Records, Erroll Garner proves himself, on the cusp of his big break, a prodigious talent and idiosyncratic stylist: Nobody sounded then or sounds now like Erroll Garner.
In spite of the disc's title, this isn't a greatest-hits package. The tunes were recorded in 1949 and '50, and twelve of them the CD includes three bonus tracks were released as a twelve-inch long-playing record in 1949.
Garner's style, in this new millennium time frame, can come across as quaint or dated at times the same way that pre-1940 Ellington can sound dated and that's especially true on the opener, the American Songbook standard "The Way You Look Tonight." Jaunty, sassy, full of panache, Garner's right hand seems to flutter across the right side of the keyboard, splashing bright colors all over the place with flourishes galore. Lovely colors.
In contrast, Gershwin's "Summertime" sounds timeless, a brilliant rendition of a masterpiece, with the melody floating like a butterfly, tethered by the solid, almost metronomish chords laid down by Garner's rock-steady left hand. And "Skylark": Subtle balladry at its breath-takingly beautiful best.
A start-to-finish cohesive work of art unusual in the very early days of the twelve-inch LP "The Greatest Garner" captures the great pianist just before his famous single "Misty" and hugely popular 1955 LP, "Concert by the Sea," on Columbia Records. But he was, as this disc attests, already a fully formed artist. For those unfamiliar with the pianist, "The Greatest Garner" would make a great place to start.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.