REFLECTIONS, a "best of" collection on a single CD from Telarc Jazz, is a selection of tracks from George Shearing’s eighth decade, the 1990s. Recorded in a variety of settings - live, solo, with small groups and orchestras - it’s the consistency of Shearing’s voice that holds the album together.
Three of the tunes are from Shearing’s tribute to Nat King Cole, another subtle and contained pianist. "Straighten Up and Fly Right" most catches my ear. The drum-less trio with guitar/piano melody is straight from Nat’s blueprints, and Shearing sets aside his trademark locked-hands for a melodic tip of the hat to Cole’s spare soloing style.
Shearing flashes his bebop creds on Bud Powell’s "Wail" and his own "Conception." It’s hard to believe this is a man well into his seventies. He has lost none of his lightness of touch or bubbling energy. His time is flawless and he reels off bop lines as if they were made new that instant.
I was most affected by the simple beauty of Dave Brubeck’s "Summer Song." It’s Shearing at his mature best: a clean harmonization that lets the melody breathe, a solo reading as stark and unsentimental as a Kansas afternoon. You can almost hear the crickets.
Perhaps of most interest is the bonus track, a mixed metered resetting of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." It has the wry, good nature of Snoopy and Woodstock decorating the doghouse to the holiday sounds of Vince Guaraldi.
Cole, Brubeck, Guaraldi, Powell - there is a beauty in this kind of piano music, a subtle intelligence in its legacy that George Shearing carries forward on this collection and beyond, seemingly undimmed by passing time and fashion.