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The Best Of Art Tatum, The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces by Art Tatum

The genius that was Art Tatum (1909-1956) was magnificent. Not only was he perhaps the best technician to ever play the piano, influencing scores of pianists including Oscar Peterson, but he was also perhaps the greatest harmonic mind to grace the 88 keys, influencing generations of musicians including Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Such is the excellence of these combined abilities that he never played less than incredible on any of his recordings. While some critics have pointed to the late recordings as less than his best work, this disc, a compilation of 20 cuts from Fantasy’s The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces, shows what a critical misstep a thought like that is.

At the end of this life, from 1953 to 1956, Tatum recorded a bundle of material, both in solo and ensemble situations, for Norman Granz’s Pablo label. The seven CDs that make up the Pablo solo box set have been reduced in this disc to just some of the more amazing recordings present. While there is no such thing as a "best-of’ album when discussing Tatum, all of his material is a "best-of," the cuts on this recording are truly magnificent. Starting with a December 29, 1953 recording of Too Marvelous For Words, the brilliance of this almost blind from birth pianist is made manifest. In under three minutes Tatum improvises five different renditions of the tune’s melody. Within that short time frame he includes a number of mind-numbingly virtuosic tangents routed in harmonic variants that blow the doors off of what, at first, appears as just a nice little melody. The best thing about Tatum, as if his playing isn’t magnificent enough, is that he never preplanned, on his solo recordings, where he would go with a specific rendition. Everything he plays is on the spur of the moment and truly improvised, not premeditated.

From there the disc never lets up. Each and every cut is exemplary. Tatum is only eclipsed by himself. Just when you think he can’t be any more inspired or take familiar pieces into any further exciting territories, the next cut will include a quote from classical composer Claude Debussy or a cycling of keys that move to totally unrelated areas which only make sense because it’s Tatum doing the steering through the minefield of harmonic intention. It’s almost too much for any one human to listen to Tatum for any length of time without going into shock over his unmitigated ability to continually astound, astonish, overwhelm and engulf the listener in a sea of craftily fashioned true improvisational genius. If you can’t afford the full seven CD box set, then this disc is a must.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Art Tatum
  • CD Title: The Best Of Art Tatum, The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Fantasy
  • Rating: Five Stars
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