Jenny Lin (pn)
STEINWAY & SONS 30011 (64:12)
Blue Skies. Cheek to Cheek.
I Got Rhythm. Embraceable You. Bess, You Is My Woman Now. Fascinatin’ Rhythm.
Eliza in Ascot.
Lover. Blue Moon.
Carousel Waltz. March of the Siamese Children. My Favorite Things. Hello, Young Lovers.
Begin the Beguine. So in Love.
I have to admit, the title of this album is for the most part quite apt. Jenny Lin, the Austrian-Taiwanese pianist more famous for classical playing, here tackles (also an apt description) 18 arrangements of classic show tunes and one movie tune (David Raskin’s “Laura”), all arranged by various pianists. For simplicity’s sake, I didn’t clutter up the header with the names of the arrangers, but they include Greg Anderson, Marc-André Hamelin (whom Lin commissioned for the “Laura” arrangement), Stephen Hough, Dick Hyman (the only bona fide jazz musician in the lot), André Previn (once a jazz musician, but in another century), Cy Walter (who Lin describes as “the Art Tatum of Park Avenue”), Alexis Weissenberg (Rodgers and Hart’s “Lover”) and Earl Wild (three of the Gershwin pieces).
With such a mixed bag of arrangers presented here, it’s not surprising that the results are somewhat eclectic. Hyman, a full-time jazz pianist, and Wild, who played it part time, come the closest to creating real swinging jazz, but even some of the other arrangements come off very well in that respect, and all of them have unusual and surprising harmonic twists that make the listener pay attention. No background party music this, at least not for the most part, though as the album progresses some of the later arrangements begin to sound like cocktail piano with occasional moments of bitonality or, and this is just my impression, sounds similar to 1920s piano rolls, meaning that the performances are closer to the early ragtime-influenced jazz style of that era than anything Tatum, Brubeck, or Tyner ever did with this kind of music. (I would ask why no Tatum arrangements were used, as almost his entire “book” consisted of classic American pop and show tunes of the 1930s through the early ’50s, but I think the answer is twofold: it’s too hard to transcribe Tatum’s solos, and even harder to play them!)
But being honest, Lin does an excellent job with this music, even if I personally didn’t like some of the material chosen. I never liked the “March of the Siamese Children,” a piece I found rather uncomfortably bizarre when I was young and which still leaves a bad taste with me, and I don’t know if I’m the only classical reviewer (at least in America) who simply cannot stand anything Stephen Sondheim ever wrote (if you’re out there, let’s see a show of hands), so his “Johanna” went in one ear and out the other for me. But how can you not like the Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart (as distinguished from Rodgers and Hammerstein, which was never as jazzy or as interesting music), or Harold Arlen pieces here? In fact, I almost wish that Lin had chosen more Arlen, since he was one of the very few pop songwriters of that time who actually had a career as a jazz pianist (and singer!) in the late 1920s-early ’30s with a group called the Buffalodians. (Arlen is yet another of those songwriters whose material jazz musicians gravitate to with regularity.)
For someone like me, who is as involved with jazz as with classical, the album is a touch on the milquetoast side but still enjoyable. I played this right after my baseball team lost in the playoffs, and by golly it
make me happy. Thanks, Jenny!
Lynn René Bayley