I felt it appropriate to start off this review with an explanation of what kind of music Grant Simpson presents on his new album Stride And True. Not everyone knows what the Stride piano style is about and how it got its name. It is a style of jazz piano playing in which the right hand plays the melody and the left hand alternates between the bass notes on the strong beats and chords on the weak ones. Stride piano is one of the oldest styles of jazz piano, a sister of Ragtime, it flourished in the 1920s. The biggest difference between Ragtime and Stride piano playing is its emphasis on improvisation and the flexibility that allows a pianist to "stride" any piece of music.
It becomes apparent rather quickly that Grant Simpson has a deep abiding respect for the history and tradition of this music. He plays with passion and expertise, saluting the masters of the past with his own compositions and more familiar classics of the genre. This CD encompasses a variety of instrumental jazz-ragtime-stride piano music that will delight and stimulate your musical appetite if you are a fan of any of the styles.
I could not help but think of the silent movies and the stars of yesteryear such as Chaplin and Keaton while listening to this music. It put me right into a theater of the 1920’s watching all the crazy chase scenes in their films. I remember listening to the background music from many of those films and how it would pick up in pace as the scenes developed. Great instrumentals create pictures in your mind’s eye and this listening experience was a very effective way to paint those scenes. You do not have to be familiar with silent films to understand the emotion involved in presenting instrumental music that invokes feeling and warmth. Stride piano does all of this and more. I enjoyed the way each composition stands on its own offering something new and different, each one building to a high point then slowing down and building back up again, coming around full circle, which makes it all so emotionally progressive. Considering there are no words to contemplate, your own imagination and creative thought process is instantly ignited and engaged giving you a gentle nudge to access your own feelings and thoughts.
Most jazz music is very complex and requires several listens; I found this music intricate but simple to listen to and understand, not that I do not enjoy the challenge of complex jazz, its intelligent music and always thought provoking, however, it was a nice break to kick back and enjoy the simplicity and rhythm of this music. This is not easy music to perform; it takes great discipline and practice to perfect it. I respect Grant Simpson wholeheartedly for this fine collection of tunes, and along the way have acquired a new found respect and admiration for one of jazz music’s most enjoyable sub-genres. Once you put on this CD you will see what I am talking about, it is like stepping into an eternal time machine.