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Expat in New York

Live at Jazz Standard
Live at Jazz Standard
By the Bill Mays Trio

Palmetto Records: 2005

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This review first appeared in Turbula in September 2005.

Bill Mays left the sunny environs of SoCal for the more regular work available in the Big Apple some years back. And while he still returns home to Sandy Eggo every so often (with the joyous occasion of a gig with guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Jim Plank as the combo Road Work Ahead usually to follow), he's basically a New Yorker now.

But we'll overlook the questionable sanity that leads one to leave paradise for Metropolis as long Mays keeps releasing gems like "Live at Jazz Standard."

If not as well known as fellow pianist Monty Alexander, Mays is getting awfully darn close to Alexander in the genius department. He doesn't so much tickle the ivories as caress, massage, cajole and sometimes even make firm demands of them. He is a wonderfully dynamic pianist, his playing full of shades and nuances and, yes, even towering strength when needed.

This latest release was laid down in front of an appreciative and knowing crowd, with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. If not the world-class talent of Plank and Magnusson, it's certainly not a bad rhythm section, either. Wind even plays a little bow on the intros to "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "Smile."

But this is a Mays session – and his playing is just dynamite throughout. Whether on a swinging cover of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" where Mays displays the playfulness of the late Vince Guaraldi, or on straight-ahead cuts like his original "Music House" or Duke Ellington's "Squeeze Me," Mays shows remarkable versatility. He can be light and bouncing on the above tunes, then turn Jimmy Van Heusen's "Darn That Dream" into a weird, Yoko Ono-ish atonal bit of dissonance – and still surprise with what he pulls out of his piano. Even more of an eyebrow-raiser is turning "Willow Weep For Me" into an aggressive boogie number – with more of the dissonance from "Darn That Dream," and then morphing it into a blues number.

Few straight-ahead jazzsters show the kind of stylistic range Mays does on this disc; even fewer could pull off the changes in direction with as solid, as consistent a level of quality as Mays achieves.