Richie Beirach: Leaving

Playing in a French chateau's wine-tasting room the veteran pianist recorded his first CD composed entirely of standards - duly reinvented

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Forty-five years after making his first solo piano recording (Hubris, on ECM), Beirach returned once again to the lonely format, this time in a performance in a French chateau’s wine-tasting room in front of 120 enamoured guests. This time out, Beirach scrapped his usual pre-planned playlist of original and free improv material in favour of an unplanned set of standards, and then ran some of them together in unlikely medleys. 

As he remarks, “I have never recorded a whole CD of standards playing solo piano. . . . And I was amazed at the things I found.” Mainly, the continuing power of swing, and also that he still boasts considerable pianistic prowess, an ability to explore the unexpected and find new things to say about familiar themes.

Nardis proceeds at different tempos to great effect, the theme disappearing and then reappearing in a new guise, while On Green Dolphin Street morphs into an uptempo Bud-Powell style romp. Most ingeniously, he introduces Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time with Bill Evans’s theme from Peace Piece, and then weaves in a range of Broadway show tunes, including Bernstein’s own Maria. It’s showmanship, for sure, but endearing none the less.

Two numbers stand out: an intense and choppy exploration of Miles Davis’s Solar, where great liberties are taken with both harmony and rhythm, and the concluding but all too brief Wayne Shorter piece, Footprints, where Beirach was right at the edge of what he could play. At coming up to 80 minutes, this album takes its time, but this is one tune which Beirach could have continued for far longer.

Of the two medleys, the first is introduced by minimal notation that slowly reveals itself to be What Is This Thing Called Love, and then elbows itself into a more ruminative Alone Together and ends with a thoughtful reading of Blue In Green complete with brief, unexpected upticks. The second, meanwhile, surprises with its mixture of a romantic Spring Is Here and You Don’t Know What Love Is, a declamatory Maiden Voyage, and a choppy Monk’s Dream, to good effect.

An encore of two short Beirach pieces ends proceedings on a subdued, wistful note. Richie Beirach might be coming up to 76, but he remains a youthful and interesting performer to the last.

Discography
Nardis; What Is This Thing Called Love / Alone Together / Blue In Green medley; Round Midnight; On Green Dolphin Street; Some Other Time; Solar; Spring Is Here / Maiden Voyage / Monk’s Dream / You Don’t Know What Love Is medley; Footprints; Leaving / Sunday Song (76.53)
Beirach (p). Chateau Fleur Cardinale, Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, Bordeaux, 18 July 2022.
Jazzline D77126