Martial Solal: Live In Ottobrunn

The pianist's last solo concert is joined by a penultimate show that equally demonstrates his abundant creativity in interpreting standards


On 23 January 2019, the 91-year-old Solal gave his final public solo concert, released as Coming Yesterday, in Salle Gaveau, Paris. As I said in my JJ review, among his many gifts was the striking reinterpretation of standards and originals, notably the ability to recast a familiar song from just a few hints at its melody and produce something pristine, intricate and memorable.

That verdict applies equally to this previously unreleased penultimate solo performance before a highly attentive and appreciative audience in Ottobrunn, a suburb of Munich, a month before his final bow in Paris. It is at least as impressive – and happily longer – than the Salle Gaveau date.

The Ottobrunn concert begins with an arresting rendition of My Funny Valentine – which he also played in Paris, together with five other titles and an Ellington medley. Valentine begins with a long-held single note before darting into and out of the familiar melody.

Known for his musical wit and inventiveness, Solal transforms the traditional song Frère Jacques (I Remember Jack) and a mock serious Happy Birthday into little fugues. One of his own compositions, Histoire De Blues, is a pensive mini-history of pianistic styles, while an Ellington medley of Caravan, Sophisticated Lady and Satin Doll shines new light on familiar versions by their composer – one of Solal’s idols.

There is an extended and jolly ramble through Tea For Two, which also features his strong left hand. A restructured (but quickly identifiable) Lover Man and a pensive Round Midnight are object lessons in improvisation. Appropriately, that is the title (Improvisation) of an extended (8.12) Solal composition which embellishes and reframes the melody of I Can’t Get Started.

Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day has never received a better interpretation. The Köln Duet, Improvisation, another Solal original, has him exploring unknown territory, emerging refreshed and reflective – and adding merry closing quotes from Jingle Bells and Salt Peanuts.

In an appreciative comment included with this set, pianist Jeff Gardner gets as close as anyone to celebrating Solal’s unique gifts: “At the very top level of jazz piano greats, he allies Lisztian technical powers with a unique harmonic sensibility bending jazz and XXth Century harmony”. Repeated listening confirms the soundness of his opinion.

CD1: My Funny Valentine; Histoire De Blues; Tea For Two; Caravan / Sophisticated Lady / Satin Doll; I’ll Remember April; Brother Jack; Lover Man; Cherokee (49.01)
CD2: Improvisation; Coming Yesterday; Happy Birthday; Here’s That Rainy Day; Round Midnight; Köln Duet, Improvisation; My One And Only Love (45.06)

Solal (p). Ottobrunn, Germany. 14 December 2018.
GLM Music EC607-2