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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BILLY LESTER

Unabridged

JUJIKAAN JKA 002

 

 

  1. Overture: Passionate Musings
  2. Jamba Swing
  3. One after Another
  4. Blues for Charlie Christian
  5. Spree-ing
  6. Songbook Harmony
  7. Self-Encounters
  8. Finale 3:43 – Reprise

Billy Lester (piano)

Recorded Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY [44:07]


My last experience of Billy Lester came with his album Storytime where I labelled him a tricky customer and felt a lack of thematic identity bogged things down. Once again, in this latest disc, I find some things that have proved too hermetic and static and his stream-of-consciousness reportage, for all the interesting things encountered, remains maddeningly inconsistent in total effect.

This is a shame as he’s a literate and articulate player. He shows Monk-like qualities on Overture and player-piano meets Boogie drive in Jamba Swing. He breaks off here for a melodic passage. One After Another shows his jabbing allusive lines in a piece that, like its companions, is wholly improvised. Those jabbing staccati are a part of his expressive arsenal, as are stride-derived left hand figures. Sometimes, as in Blues for Charlie Christian he seems to allude to guitar chording and single note playing, rather as classical composers roll chords to allude to the bardic harp or lute impressions. Spree-ing, by contrast, is an incessant six minutes’ worth that stops, briefly, to indulge a crunchy dissonance.

This propensity for rolling, percussive jaggedly angular lines continues in Songbook Harmony though here that adamantine element diffuses into more traditional pianistic elements. Classical tropes are seldom far from the surface. It would be interesting to know what motivated Self-Encounters but this is, for Lester, quite an avuncular affair with a pleasing melodic profile and the sound of the reveille over a strong left-hand vamp.

Howard Mandel’s liner notes put the case strongly for Lester. I remain unconvinced but I liked this album a good deal better than the last one.

Jonathan Woolf



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