When I was a callow teen getting into jazz in the 70s, I was into Miles’ electric stuff, Don Cherry, McCoy Tyner, Frank Zappa’s instrumental stuff, Gato Barbieri et. al. I thought the older generation guys like George Shearing were squares, making music that was worthy of respect but stuck in an old-guard tradition - Shearing, Ellington, MJQ, etc. could not nearly be as earth-shattering, incendiary or cosmically brilliant as the aforementioned Joes. What did I know, anyway? Maybe age is tempering the fires a bit - I believe it was John Waters who said that if you have the same rage at age 50 as you did when you were 20, you’re probably an a**hole - but as I get older I’ve come to appreciate and value the old guard.
So what about this Shearing platter, anyway? Historical background dept.: in 1970, the major labels’ interest in jazz was, to put it very mildly, minimal, and so like the tres-avant (and not-so-avant) musicians, G. Shearing decided to have a go at it himself with his own Sheba label. The kind cats at Koch Jazz have graciously made some of the Sheba catalog available in the popular CD format, one of them being the somewhat anachronistically titled Out Of The World. Yet, if this disc were entitled Shemp’s Sinful Sex Secrets or Richard Nixon’s Favorite Piano Bar, it would be no less essential, No Less Hip and no less worthy of the admonition that no house should be without one. (Providing, of course, that said house is to some extent maintained with love of fine piano jazz.)
I’ve been listening to this baby almost nom-stop for the past 24 hours and on each listen I find more to recommend about this album. It’s Shearing solo, with a program consisting of a few originals, some jazz standards and a couple of Beatles’ songs. Hardly sounds like a show-stopper, until you listen. The understated power of this set is in his elegant yet un-wimpy approach and the way he opens up the melodic content of the tunes to remake them as his own. There’s the influence of Art Tatum and Euro-classical music (Debussy, Satie, Rachmaninoff and especially J.S. Bach) yet these inspirations are complete assimilated. Shearing’s treatments are rhapsodic but never showy, richly harmonious, always keeping the soul of the song yet allowing him and you to hear it in new ways. He never rambles and there’s not a wasted or superfluous note to be heard.
No, it’s not exactly up-and-at-‘em music - it’s for the quiet hours. But for those times when you want/need to relax and/or be comforted while not necessarily turning off your brain completely, Out Of This World is a practically perfect tonic for these tumultuous times, and my pick for Jazz Reissue Of The Year.