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Wellstood at his best!
B. D. Tutt | London, UK. | 02/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't be put off by the title or the repertoire - 75% of this CD is Wellstood at the top of his late period form, recorded shortly before his death in 1987. The first four tracks - all Scott Joplin compositions - are not up to the standard of the remainder of the CD. "Solace" and Scott Joplin's New Rag" are given rather lacklustre straight readings, "The Entertainer" is Wellstood's much recorded bluesy arrangement, whilst "Maple Leaf Rag" is rather restrained compared to his "Live at the Sticky Wicket" rendition.The rest of the CD is outstanding. Wellstood triumphs over the unpromising material, producing jazz interpretations of the highest quality. Four tracks, "Sidewalks of New York", "Bill Bailey", "Washington and Lee Swing" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" are master-classes in top class fast stride piano - propulsively swinging performances, with crackling right hand riffs and arabesques playing off against a surging, stomping bass. "Bill Bailey" in particular is a revelation: a hackneyed dixieland warhorse re-invented by Wellstood into a stride showpiece. Of the other tracks, "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" is taken at medium fast tempo and is a driving, two fisted rumbustious transformation, ragtime song "Hello My Baby" becomes a bluesy ballad, "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" and "Ida" are given medium paced swinging treatments, and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" goes from richly harmonised gospel through swing to stride. The two blues are also characteristic of Wellstood at his best, a mixture of boogie and James P. Johnson played with a power reminiscent of Otis Spann.One final point in recommendation of this CD: Wellstood, like so many jazz pianists, was frequently recorded on terrible pianos. The piano here is first rate, and well suited to the stride style, with a bright treble and a firm sonorous bass. Recording quality is excellent throughout. (Incidentally, five of the tracks here have been transcribed and published in Riccardo Scivales' Dick Wellstood Jazz Piano Solos, published by Kjos Music, 1994).This CD is recommended without reservation - ignore the first four tracks, but relish the remainder: Dick Wellstood at his best, and therefore jazz piano at its best."