Yesterday I received my copy of pianist Chris Dawson’s first solo CD, STRIDIN’ THROUGH CHRISTMAS, and it’s a wow. But perhaps you’d like to read some expert testimony:
Let’s get my personal prejudices out of the way. To me, “Christmas music” tends either to be religious or fairly limited pop hits. But I calmed myself when I saw there were no versions of THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY or RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER on this CD. Dawson plays each selection as a new composition, exploring its improvisatory possibilities.
Many CDs pall quickly because the artist or artists have one approach and sustain it through as many as twenty-five selections. Not so here. You will hear piano playing that’s sometimes rollicking, sometimes deeply sensitive . . . and Chris doesn’t take predictable paths.
What’s loosely called “stride piano” has also come in for some rough handling from players who have only a superficial understanding of the idiom. All it is, they think, is a steady left-hand pattern, rhythmically powerful, alternating low notes in the bass and a resounding chord . . . over and over, while the right hand does whatever it likes. For many players, who may well be technically gifted, the result is rather like the ticking of a loud watch or the pounding of a machine. Others model their playing on Fats Waller, which is fine in theory but not if it’s a matter of learning the eight or ten patented “Wallerisms” and sprinkling them liberally through every composition. Stride, clearly athletic and virtuosic, also gets confused in some pianists’ minds with exhibitionism: faster, more percussive, louder, longer.
Chris Dawson is someone who knows and has internalized the whole jazz piano tradition — forwards to Bill Evans, let us say, and backwards to the early James P. Johnson. What you’ll hear on this disc is often delicate but never so ruminative as to become dull. Most often, while listening, I thought of Chris as offering his own variations on three masters: Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna, and Dick Hyman. (And there are touches of Forties Johnny Guarneri in there, too — which is a high compliment.) I hear the delicacy, strength, and vivid imagination that I associate with these three masters in every bar of this CD, and it’s not an archivist’s recreation, not jazz archaeology — but living improvised music. He has a fine swing in his playing, but he is harmonically free, and at times the experienced jazz listener will marvel at the happy marriage of presumed opposites in his playing. He can make something as melodically simple as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN hilariously mobile, and I was moved by Chris’s tender explorations of SILENT NIGHT. He’s accurate but never stiff; the performances don’t go on too long; the CD is wonderfully varied and the sound of the recording is delicious.
To hear some samples, I would direct the reader back a few posts to: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/an-early-christmas-present/. Hear Chris stride through WE THREE KINGS, surely not the usual . . . .
Or, if you prefer soundbites: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ChrisDawson
To buy the CD: http://shop.astinmusic.com/
I think that you’ll still be playing this CD in February 2010 and onwards, when the house has returned to its normal state and the only reminder of the holiday is the credit card bills.