The Wizard from Algiers

Martial Solal—One of the World's Great Piano Virtuosos Deserves More Props in America

Here, in tandem with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian—Bill Evans's acclaimed trio mates of 1965—Solal practices the rare art of pure freedom in form. On such standards as "Just Friends," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," and "You Stepped Out of a Dream," and his own tunes, Solal rewrites song through disjunctive rhythm. His airborne lines slip free of all shackles, yet their spontaneous movement only makes sense in the context of the song's formal barriers. It's as if Solal longs for the pleasures of a cage, just so he can brazenly slip in and out of its bars. But he can also match Peacock and Motian at their own game, making living entities out of the barest of forms; for Solal, free jazz becomes just one more mountain to effortlessly scale. Like everything else he does, he pulls it off without a trace of glibness or virtuosic superficiality.

Just Friends should be snatched up before it, too, vanishes. In the good old days, a jazz pianist often became a legend through the sheer lack of recordings he or she produced: Take the cases of Herbie Nichols, Peck Kelly, and "the legendary" Hassan. In the strange commercial world in which we live, a major figure like Solal can have scores of recordings yet, due to poor distribution, still remain a blip on the radar in the U.S. Then again, if aspiring young pianists heard a good dose of Solal at his best, it might well send them in search of another line of work.

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