Danger! Danger! Syncopation Overload!
Dick Hyman has been crafting wonderfully nostalgic recordings for over half a century. He's an expert in the history of early jazz, especially early jazz piano, and uses his own substantial technique to honor the greats of ragtime, stride and swing. His playing features solid rhythms and clean articulation (though he muffs a few here). You can count on him for the quintessence of a style. Most modern jazz pianists tend to emphasize the right hand, so it's a pleasure to hear him lay down the authoritative left hand so essential to the counter melodies and rhythms of players such as Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson.
Hyman's previous albums have often been homages to those great pianists and others of the early twentieth century. This time out though, he pays his respects to the lyrically talented Bix Beiderbecke, one of the most famous of the early jazz trumpet players. Bix was born in 1903 and died just 28 years later, an early jazz victim of liquor and drugs. Cornet was his preference, but he also played some piano, and for this album Hyman has unearthed five seldom recorded tunes he wrote for that instrument. They are mostly gentle pieces, sometimes mildly reminiscent of Debussy. Most of the other 12 tracks are arrangements of Beiderbecke cornet solos. Perhaps the most familiar of these is from "I'm Coming, Virginia." Hyman's touching version is one of the release's highlights. Another is the pianist's own original "Thinking about Bix," taken in close to a lilting ragtime groove.
The thoughtful mix of tempos and moods ranges from the poignant "Singin' the Blues (Till My Daddy Comes Home)" to the jaunty "You Took Advantage of Me." The latter is the only non-solo on the album as a capable Mike Lipskin joins Hyman for a four-hand duet.
Yes, there is a good bit of in-your-face syncopation that may sound a little corny to modern ears. And at times I would have liked more of a feeling of a smoke-filled, raucous saloon, but the total effect is endearing. If you long for the days of strong two-handed players and melodies that are either sweetly innocent or catchy and clever, this one's for you. Strongly recommended.