At 83, Martial Solal is still one of the finest jazz pianists to be seen anywhere. Here's a man — then, as now, a legitimate virtuoso — who made recordings with all-time legends like Django Reinhardt and Sidney Bechet, and has adopted elements of just about all the styles of jazz since then into a distinct personal vision.
It's just that he's not seen that often, at least in the U.S.; he's been based in Paris, France for the great majority of his career. But he's embarking on a rare U.S. tour this year, and it stops in New York City for a week at the Village Vanguard. NPR Music and WBGO presented a live audio/video webcast and on-air broadcast with Solal, performing in duo with bassist Francois Moutin.
A largely self-taught pianist, Solal is a versatile stylist. He loves the standard repertoire, especially fracturing it and exploring its tangents; he can make the abstract swing. (In performance, it was hard to tell the difference between standards and originals, or the improvised and pre-arranged.) He's written film scores and classical works, and has written for a 12-piece band he calls the Dodecaband. But among those who do know his discography, he's largely remembered for highly flexible small group performances and recordings in trios, duos and solo. The bassist Francois Moutin, decades Solal's junior, was a member of Solal's trio in Paris; he's since become a highly sought-after session player in New York City.
Solal was born in Algiers, then a French colony — to a mother who sang opera and introduced him to music — and settled in Paris in 1950. There, he met the greatest of the great U.S. expats: Bechet, drummer Kenny Clarke, saxophonists Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, and so forth. He scored Godard films, anchored the Parisian scene and won the recognition of American musicians, even playing a New York club and the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963, a time when U.S. attention, much less respect, was hard to come by for European jazz artists.
He's been highly active since then. Within the last decade, Solal has also put out two sparkling albums recorded live at the Village Vanguard. (The first one, NY-1, was recorded with a trio featuring Moutin; the most recent was a solo performance recorded in 2007.) Chances are, he's been keeping his chops in order since the previous engagements by practicing classical repertoire for hours every day.
"If I play much improvisation at home, I would maybe have nothing more to say," he told Frank Browning in a 2009 NPR story. "That's a sort of attitude to keep the best for the concerts."
- "Here's That Rainy Day"
- "Tea For Two"
- "I Remember You"
- "Round Midnight"
- "Zag Zig" (Solal)
- "Body and Soul"
- "Coming Yesterday" (Solal)
- "Monostome" (Solal)
- "There's A Small Hotel"/"I Can't Get Started"
- "Willow Weep For Me"
- Martial Solal, piano
- Francois Moutin, bass
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, technical director
- Michael Downes, mix engineer
- Lara Pellegrinelli, moderator