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Back To Birdland by George Shearing Quintet

It's not the same Birdland but not much else has changed. We've heard that soothing sound for fifty years or so. It's one of the most recognizable voicings in jazz - piano, guitar and vibes in octave unison. The octogenarian pianist hasn't lost a step. He still has that elegant touch, those trademarked blocked chords and a flair for improvisation.. His spoken and musical intro to" Lullaby of Birdland" is evidence that his puckish sense of humor is also undiminished.

George Shearing has always surrounded himself with top talent. The musicians on this session are particularly versatile. On bass, it's Neil Swainson, who started with Shearing in 1988. Don Thompson is on vibes. The guitarist is Reg Schwager, an inventive yet underrated musician from Toronto whose tastes range from pre-swing to Cecil Taylor. Drummer Dennis Mackrel was on the Basie Band at age 21 and was Mel Lewis's handpicked successor for the Village Vanguard Orchestra's drum chair.

The set is made up of jazz originals and standards, Originals include Shearing's own "Lullaby of Birdland," Duke's "Let Me Off In Harlem" and "Joyspring" by Clifford Brown. "Donna Lee" displays Shearing's boppish side while an extended version of Tristano's "Subonscious-Lee" provides the most innovative solos on this CD. On the standards, Shearing is at his best alone on "High On A Windy Hill" and the reflective "Just Imagine." He also plays soft shoe piano on Errol Garner's "Loot to Boot." Among the remaining Quintet tracks are "That Sunday That Summer" at a tempo that does conjure up a sultry southern Sunday and a Swainson take on "Speak Low" which alternates between swing and his driving triplet pattern bass line.

A "must" for Shearing fans!

Trivia question: Who has played piano, bass and vibes for George Shearing? The answer is Don Thompson. The vibist on this date, he is a virtuoso on all three instruments. In the early eighties he was Shearing's bass player, often featured in piano duets when on tour.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: George Shearing Quintet
  • CD Title: Back To Birdland
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Telarc
  • Musicians: George Shearing (piano), Don Thompson (vibraphone), Reg Schwager (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass), Dennis Mackrel (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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