Michael Allen Harrison’s Tribute to Gershwin & Friends
is by no means a new album, but it’s new to me, and what a killer! I had the opportunity to meet Harrison in Portland, OR last year and to see him play live. He’s one of a handful of pianists so extraordinarily gifted that he seems to be the most at home with the piano at his fingertips, making the most difficult passages look like child’s play. That doesn’t mean that this album is showy or full of bravado. The clarity of Harrison’s playing and the depth of emotion conveyed is head and shoulders above the majority of pianists out there (Michael Dulin and Philip Aaberg come to mind as players with this kind of pianism. Awesome, all three!!!) Gershwin and Friends
is made up of thirteen compositions that harken back to a more innocent era when music was more relaxed and less competitive. Six of the songs were composed by George Gershwin, two are original Harrison pieces, and the others are standards that were composed at about the same time as the Gershwin pieces. Most are piano solos, but a few of the tracks include bass and/or guitar. For the most part, this is a quiet, soulful recording, but there are some upbeat and lively moments as well.
All of the tracks on this album are wonderful, but I have some favorites. The CD opens with a sultry “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” With just piano and acoustic bass, this is the perfect slow dance. “God Bless the Child” is dark and slinky in an easy, sensual style. Bass, electric guitar and very light percussion enhance the mood. Yum! “Autumn Leaves” has been one of my favorite songs since I was a kid, and Harrison’s arrangement does not disappoint. Flowing and elegant, the heartbreaking melody touches deep within. And then there’s “Summertime,” my all-time favorite Gershwin piece. Dark and bluesy for a couple of verses, the last minute or so is more uptempo and improvised - an incredible arrangement! “Swanee” begins in a ballad style that is dark and slow and develops into the melody most of us are familiar with in a whimsical, nostalgic style; it ends with a phrase from Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks At Home” - a cute touch! “My Funny Valentine,” another favorite standard of mine, closes the album with an enchanting love song full of easy grace and tenderness.
What a great album! Michael Allen Harrison has inspired me to pull out some of my Gershwin piano books and dust them off, but I can only dream of playing this music like him! Tribute to Gershwin & Friends
is available from mahrecords.com
, amazon.com, cdbaby.com, and other online and retail outlets. Very highly recommended!