Mark Shane is one of the finest jazz pianists alive. Don’t take my word for it — ask the musicians who have played alongside him, whose music he has enlivened and uplifted. Or ask any other jazz pianist who knows how to swing.
He can swing in a way that is deeply reminiscent of Fats, Teddy, James P. — but he is no archaeologist, no copyist perfecting what he’s memorized from the manuscript. (He’s no museum piece, either — having learned a great deal from Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, too.) A long apprenticeship as an improvising player — with Bob Wilber and Ruby Braff, among others — made him a fully mature player.
In his work, you’ll hear great subtleties — his harmonies, his intertwining lines — but he never shows off his technique. Rather, he is both eloquent and plain, serving the song and its emotions. Shane is instantly recognizable (his four-bar introductions are lovely compositions on their own) and he is his own man.
His music is delicate — because of his beautifully executed ideas and his touch (there’s classical training in his background and it shows) but he is a powerful player and his rhythm engine is always well-tuned, his swinging time impeccable.
What is the reason for all this praise?
Shane has issued another self-produced solo CD — TICKLIN’ — its title in honor of the great Harlem piano virtuosi, the “ticklers” of the last century. It took me a long time to listen to it all the way through because I kept playing tracks over and over, returning to a certain passage to marvel at its own kind of luminescence, its joyous forward motion. Under his fingers, Newton’s laws seem to be modified in the happiest of ways — you find yourself delighting in his intensity, his moving things forward in a delightful fashion, while at the same time there is the utmost relaxation, the absence of hurry, of rush. Mark doesn’t like what he calls “draggy ballads,” so most of the CD takes place at a variety of nimble medium tempos . . . music to pat your foot by, but also lovely music to meditate by.
And to practical matters: the piano sounds lovely; the repertoire is varied, offering both the familiar — BODY AND SOUL — and the less so — CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES and James P.’s FASCINATION. No tricks, nothing fancy, just one glorious improvisation after another.
To learn more, visit his site (the CD is $15 including shipping):
Shane’s music is a wonderful cure for whatever darkness may pass through your days.
And just in case his name is new to you, here’s a performance I captured from 2009 — Mark Shane exploring the old sweet nonsense tune JADA in a solo outing at Birdland: