Duo piano performances always have the possibility of being overcrowded, too dense and a bit directionless. Fortunately, this live set from the Montreal Bistro in Toronto, Canada avoids the potential flaws. Pianists Harold Mabern and Geoff Keezer (who also comprise 2/5ths of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble) have complementary styles and blend together quite well on the set. Dedicated to Phineas Newborn, with two of Newborn's songs included ("Jate" and "While My Lady Sleeps"), there are also selections by Leroy Vinnegar, Duke Pearson ("Jeannine"), Nat Cole and Mabern ("Rakin' & Scrapin"). Mabern takes Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" as his feature, while Keezer is showcased solo on Thad Jones' "Consummation." A swinging high-quality set within the modern mainstream.
Other than two numbers cut for the Progressive label in Houston a couple years earlier (and thus far never reissued), this Atlantic session (put out as a Koch CD in 1999) was the recording debut for the remarkable Phineas Newborn. The 24-year-old pianist's playing on this trio/quartet date with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke (and occasionally guitarist Calvin Newborn) is virtuosic to say the least, on Oscar Peterson's level if not Art Tatum's. Newborn rips through the repertoire (which is highlighted by "Barbados," "Celia," "Daahoud," and "Afternoon in Paris"); try to tap your foot to "Celia" without breaking your ankle! In the liner notes, George Wein faults Newborn's tendency to double time the ballads, and some listeners may shake their heads at his constant outpouring of technically impossible runs (those speedy octaves are ridiculous) – but if one has chops on this level, one should feel free to display them. This is a dazzling debut from an ill-fated but classic pianist, and this CD is a gem.
This was not a working trio, except for a series of Mondays at the Five Spot Café in the fall of 1958, but it is a unit that is made up of three powerful parts whose sum is even greater than its whole. What they do with two Ray Bryant orginals, Avery Parrish’s classic blues, "After Hours,” Tadd Dameron’s "Our Delight,” and Phineas Newborn’s "Sugar Ray,” is memorable music from an all-star trio that would never get together again.