Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Larry Novak - Invitation

Neil Tesser, in the liner notes to "Invitation" (Delmark Records), observes that this is Larry Novak's first album in over a half century and its only the second album he's recorded under his own name, although one might have heard on on recordings by Louis Bellson (with whom he toured), Eddie Daniels, Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco, and on the first Delmark disc pairing Von Freeman and Frank Catalano; as well as worked with Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan. He had lengthy residences at Mr. Kelly's and The London House and gathered the admiration of many including Oscar Peterson and became close to Bill Evans.

Evans had a great deal of impact on his music which is evident on the two opening numbers, a lovely solo opening "Waltz For Debby," and "Very Early," which introduces his trio of bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Rusty Jones (who passed away in December of 2015). And it is a marvelous trio whose near telepathic interplay is terrific throughout on album whose songs were (with two exceptions) recorded by Evans.

The aura of Evans might hover over these performances, but they stand on their own as Novak is a pianist with a marvelous touch, who displays a fertile imagination and a crisp rhythmic flow. There is delight in the lively "The Days of Wine and Roses," and a stunning, feverish rendition of Gigi Gryce's "Minority," a stunning bop piano workout. The there is a lovely ballad playing on "Close Enough For Love," and the delightful interpretation of the must recorded "Yesterdays." The album closes with a hauntingly lovely solo performance of "Its Too Late Now."

One cannot understate the contributions of Hochberg and Jones, both in their support of Novak, and their own solo breaks that flow naturally within the performances here. Neil Tesser states when nothing that this was Novak's first album in half a century, "Let that sink in for a moment." Certainly listening to "Invitation," one shares his bewilderment that a pianist of Larry Novak's caliber could fly under the radar for so long. "Invitation" is a superb recording by an extraordinary pianist that finally is getting his due. It is a recording I will be returning to frequently.

I received my copy from Delmark.This review has appeared in the January-February 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364) although I made a few minor stylistic changes in posting to the blog. Here is a short video of Larry Novak performing.

Here is Larry Novak performing in 1991 as part of a Benny Goodman tribute with Herb Ellis, Milt Hinton and Butch Miles.

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