Traditional jazz can be played well and enjoyed in any instrumental combination from soloist to symphony, even a guitar and clarinet duet can produce a great early jazz sound if that’s all the gig will allow. There is a tendency for groupings of less than five to lose their energy and come across as conservatory music, but certain instrumental pairings are better suited to rise above and produce a sound as complete as any large band.
In a review of a ragtime album a while back I described my love of the piano percussion combination. In a ragtime setting it provides that little extra something to excite audiences not knowledgeable enough to appreciate the nuances of piano by itself. In a jazz settings, as Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller both knew, it can convince the audience the pianist has an orchestra hidden in that thing à la Paul Whiteman‘s film King of Jazz.
Guillaume Nouaux is one of Europe’s leading jazz drummers and he’s found a way in recent albums to display his full abilities. His last album, Guillaume Nouaux & the Clarinet Kings, was a double disc that collected eleven top clarinetists in a clarinet-piano-drums trio setting. His new release, Guillaume Nouaux & the Stride Piano Kings, gathers seven stride piano masters for two tracks each in a duo setting.
The pianists are Rossano Sportiello, Bernd Lhotzky, Louis Mazetier, Chris Hopkins, Alain Barrabès, Luca Filastro, Harry Kanters. All are European based though Chris Hopkins was born in New Jersey. Several make regular appearances at traditional and mainstream jazz events stateside. The 15 tracks, including one drum solo, are shuffled to provide the album a progression and balance.
Nouaux varies his style to match the pianist, sometimes using brushes, but more so than on the clarinet album he is also at the fore fully utilizing the expressiveness of sound available to the drummer.
The album gets off to a hot start with “Harlem Strut” and “Drop Me Off In Harlem” making clear their aural geography. They take off on “I Wish I Were Twins” with Luca Filastro showing off his crowd pleasing flash and Nouaux taking extended and innovative solos.
There are several breaks from the heat. “Willow Weep For Me”, and “Why Did You Tell Me ‘I Love You'” are played low and slow with Rossano Sportiello’s left hand being particularly impressive on the later. The slower tempo on “When I Grow To Old To Dream” allows Chris Hopkins to use his playing to truly highlight Nouaux’s compliment to it.
The “Cherokee/Salt Peanuts” jam with Alain Barrabès is joy inducing. “Overnight” with Louis Mazetier pulls you along with an amazing railroad feel. The album closes with a strong songbook foursome of “Tea For Two”, “When I Grow To Old To Dream”, “Lady is a Tramp”, and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Harry Kanters and Nouaux build up an amazing swing at the open of “Tea For Two” and Bernd Lhotzky gets deep in the groove on the very surprising “Rainbow”.
Its hard to pick a favorite on such a solid album, certainly one of the best releases in our niche this year. For drummers, and those who appreciate jazz drumming, this is a must have. For solo pianists desiring a lesson on working with other instruments this is a master class. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough to fans looking for an album they will enjoy over and over again.