Dave McKenna (1930-2008) had a piano style that was difficult to resist. When he played hard-swinging pieces, his left hand’s urgent bass lines lifted up the bandstand. He had an admirable knowledge of American popular music and could improvise medleys comprised of related (or occasionally unrelated) songs on the spot, never losing his way or becoming hesitant. His playing was consistently joyous, even at slower tempos, and he sounded quite individual.
Fortunately Dave McKenna recorded a lot during 1973-2002 for Chiaroscuro, Concord, and Arbors so there is no shortage of his work on CDs. Still, it has been some time since a previously unissued session has come out, making one grateful for Arbor’s Dave McKenna In Madison.
The otherwise informative liner notes do not tell the precise date of this set but it could be from 1991 or shortly after. Performing at Farley’s House Of Pianos in Madison, Wisconsin, McKenna shows that he was very much an orchestra by himself. In addition to “Too Marvelous For Words,” Charlie Parker’s “Crazeology,” “Exactly Like You,” “Detour Ahead,” and a combination of “You’re Driving Me Crazy” and “Moten Swing,” McKenna creates three spontaneous medleys. He ties together six Vernon Duke songs (including the obscure “The Likes Of You”), makes up a medley of two different songs called “Soon” and “Rose Room,” and mixes together four tunes that have the word “Time” in their titles.
The music is well recorded and Dave McKenna is heard throughout in inventive and swinging form. This is a happy release.
Dave McKenna In Madison
(Arbors ARCD 19467, 8 selections, TT = 62:37) www.arborsrecords.com