DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Bill Mays, piano – Solo! (2008)

A straight nearly one-hour concert by top jazz pianist Bill Mays, in a non-gimmicky studio setting telecast.

Published on October 19, 2012

Bill Mays, piano – Solo! (2008)

Bill Mays, piano – Solo! (2008)

Program: Cool Struttin’, Conception, Looking Back, Dolphin Dance, Freight Trane, Waltz for Debby, Pensativa, Monk‘s Mood
Studio: www.billmays.net
Video: 16:9 color from HD master
Audio: English PCM stereo (48K)
Extras: Mays interview
Length: 54:08
Rating: ****

Recorded during a live telecast at PBS station WVIA-TV in 2008, this is a straight-ahead presentation, with no special studio or production gimmicks. Mays is at the Steinway, with a mic at hand to give an intro to some of the tunes, and the setting is a brick-lined studio with the show’s title projected onto the bricks in the back. About the mid-point an announcer shows up at another mic to ask Bill a few questions about the music.  There is a smallish studio audience (but the camera catches one person leaving in the middle – not good). The piano is picked up by a simple ORTF-type double mic setup over the strings. The sound is excellent and the lighting and camera work good. If you have a decent display and a good audio system, this is a terrific way to spend an hour, and beats only listening to a CD. The disc comes in a compact cardboard sleeve like a CD, not in a standard DVD case.

The eight selections are all compositions by some of May’s forerunners and influences, similar to the 15 selections he played at the recent Oregon Coast Jazz Party. Among the authors are George Shearing, Sonny Clark, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Clare Fischer and Thelonious Monk. The idea was to make clear the jazz piano tradition, some of its geniuses, and to also establish Mays’ own place as one of the finest jazz pianists around today. I especially enjoyed his version of Evan’s “Waltz for Debby.”  Having heard a host of other versions, I found this one of the most unusual without being too avant.

—John Henry




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