Jimmy Rowles, Shade and Light (Paris 1978) (feat. George Duvivier, Oliver Jackson) [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions]
A sly, persuasive and charming set from the great wit of the piano
I downloaded the late Jimmy Rowles's Shade and Light so that I could hear something optimistic and clever. Rowles, that great wit of a pianist, never fails to cheer me. With his sly selection of material, unfailing ability to avoid cliché, and assiduous choice of bandmates — in this instance bassist George Duvivier and drummer Oliver Jackson — he guaranteed each album was a modest gem. One of jazz's best-ever vocal accompanists, Rowles brought to his instrumental albums the same understanding of lyrics that he served him so well with Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn; you can almost hear the words to the tunes he plays. "The Lady's In Love With You" sets the tone for the program. Propelled lightly but persuasively by Duvivier and Jackson, the pianist plays the melody with great charm and then adds two feathery choruses before handing it off to the bass. The piano solo is at once reassuringly familiar and yet still unique. This same funny wildcard quality elevates the tune.
Another off-kilter choice: Rowles handles the little-known Duke Ellington composition "Portrait of the Lion" — a tribute by one great pianist to another, Willie "The Lion" Smith, here played by a third — by letting Duvivier state the theme. "Drinkin 'and Driving," a Rowles original that has been covered by Wayne Shorter and Shelley Manne, is given a deeply dolorous reading. It's a brilliant performance, one that evokes the kind of helplessness its title suggests. Rowles plays a skittering, tentative solo that touches the heart. But he wasn't a pianist who lingered on the morose. He moves on to a gentle bossa-nova take on "Prelude to a Kiss" and follows that with an Erroll Garner-inspired "Yes Sir, That's My Baby." We're also treated to one example of Rowles's affable whiskey baritone: "When the Morning Glories Wake Up In the Morning" is an absolute blast — wise, slightly insidious and completely and unmistakably Jimmy Rowles.