Bobby Few

Lights and Shadows
Boxholder BXH 054

Veteran pianist Bobby Few, 72, has dual allegiance, sprinkling his improvisations with timbres that are alternately “inside” and “out” – and cumulatively inimitable. He shares that musical version of multi-tasking with others keyboardists such as Philadelphia’s Dave Burrell and New York’s Cooper-Moore or Raymond A. King.

Although the Cleveland-native had a series of high-profile gigs in the 1960s as sideman to saxophonists as different as tenor saxophonists Booker Ervin and Albert Ayler, and a decade-long stint as part of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s sextet in the 1970s and 1980s, living in France since 1969 means that he’s less well-known than other pianists of equal – or lesser –talents.

Recent duo CDs with New York reedist Avram Fefer have done something to rectify this situation, and so should the series of seven fantasias captured on this disc. Fantasia is the proper word, for the inventions Few elaborates here derive some of their shape and coloration from Few’s early classical studies as well as his history playing pop, funk, mainstream and avant-jazz.

Individual lines and/or entire tracks are voiced gently and somewhat impressionistically, with handfuls of sparking tones added to the output. However when he immerses himself into the essence of the tunes – all except one written by Lacy, composed by Few – the formal pianism implicit in rolling arpeggios and repeated glissandi gives way to discursive examinations and variations on the themes. Thick swats in the bass register, while clinking higher-pitched pitches, sometimes foreshadow original key excursions, and other times bend the textures to expose varied color and rhythmic patterns.

Showpieces like the more-than-14½-minute “What You Doing?” and the nearly 18½-minute title track demonstrate the high sheen he uses to polish his solo creations. On the later, with the pace restrained and adagio, Few appears to be inquisitively probing each note before it’s introduced, balancing stately spectral movement with a proper backbeat. Always on an even keel, the piece meanders from being briefly staccato and speedy to a measured tempo of radiant timbres with an overlay of triads. Following the jumping and jittering which results from introducing a dynamic counter-theme in the penultimate minutes, he concludes almost as he began. Stately inventive, thematic motifs are individually sounded in one pitch then mirrored in another, pitched either higher or lower.

Rivulets of notes are overlaid into a sfmuto of color on “Lights and Shadows” as Few’s piano reflects sound-board variations as well as the note brought forward. Recital-like and almost ceremonial, his variations expose discordant and melodic clusters, brief and extended lines, and build up to a near-formalistic outpouring. Although he seems to be pitchsliding as many notes as possible into each riff, the moderato exposition never loses its forward motion. Sweeping across the keys while tinkling secondary lines in the treble clef, the resulting, final cadenzas call on jazz syncopation as well as strict neo-classical coloration.

At Few’s age so-called classical virtuosi such as Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz were still gaining accolades for solo concerts of the traditional repertoire in concert halls throughout the world. Meanwhile his usual venues are night clubs and his praise tempered with the usual high-art disdain reserved for improvised music and musicians.

However, now that mature stylists such as Few have reached a similar age plus a comparable interpretational command of original as well as traditional material, they should be given opportunities similar to what the Horowitzes received.

Lights and Shadows presents more and decisive evidence as to why that should come to pass.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Bells 2. Flakes 3. From Different Lands 4. Enomis 5. Lights and Shadows 6. What You Doing? 7. Dreams

Personnel: Bobby Few (piano)