|Kirk Lightsey: I Will Never Stop Loving You JJR-001|
The pianist Kirk Lightsey is perhaps a name that you may not be familiar with, but that is certainly not for lack of his possessing immense talent and sublime taste. The now eighty-four-year-old pianist and one-time flutist has certainly flown under many people’s radar, despite being a key participant and contributor to many of the music’s notable performers of the past fifty years. Lightsey’s sensitive imprimatur can be heard as a sought-after sideman for an impressive array of important performers in this music’s history. Lightsey’s piano work has been present on work with Yusef Lateef, Betty Carter, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Stitt, and Chet Baker. He toured four years with saxophone titan Dexter Gordon and has recorded with such diverse artists as Woody Shaw. Harold Land and Blue Mitchell, Clifford Jordon, Gregory Porter and even The Roots. Lightsey’s leader work as a pianist has always been noted for his ability as an astute interpreter of many of the music’s most creative compositions. Back in 1984, Lightsey and the other underappreciated pianist, Harold Danko, did a duo album titled Shorter by Two. They astutely recognized the compositional brilliance of Shorter long before it was fully appreciated and took two inspiring and unique interpretations of the music’s possibilities.
Lightsey has lived in France since 2000 and over his storied career released close to twenty albums as a leader and numerous albums as a sideman. Lightsey’s latest release is a gorgeous solo album titled I Will Never Stop Loving You on JOJO records. The title song has become a signature song for the pianist. The music was written Nicholas Brodszky in 1955 with lyrics by Sammy Cahn for the movie Love Me or Leave Me. The song has been sung by Doris Day, Dinah Washington, Andy Williams, Nancy Williams, and even British pop singer Dusty Springfield and played by Ahmad Jamal. Lightsey has an innate ability to extract the beauty and sensitivity from this song and it is just an unhurried approach that is so rare to hear in today’s frenetic times. As his sparse liner notes Lightsey says :
“Patience. A lesson in patience. My whole life seems to be about the lesson of patience. Patience with myself.”
There is something undisputedly true about reaching that kind of understanding that is refreshing and revealing of this pianist at this point in his career.
Lightsey mines compositional gems here, like Wayne Shorter’s “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” which he gives a jaunty, almost stride-like approach. The pianist finds Tony Williams less explosive side by treating the drummer’s “Pee Wee” with sensitivity and respect. The touch, the pensiveness, and the emotive approach as he expands on the theme are just wonderful.
Shorter is again celebrated by Lightsey with another two of his compositions “Infant Eyes,” as good as a composition as had been created in the past fifty years, and the gem “Wild Flower”. Lightsey’s pianist approach to “Infant Eyes” is expansive and moving and filled with a bouquet of harmonic possibilities.
The composer/saxophonist Phil Woods once said “Goodbye Mr. Evans” was his best composition ever and acknowledged that Lightsey had probably made one of the most memorable renditions of this dedication to the pianist Bill Evans. There is no doubt that Lightsey revels in this song and evokes some of Evan’s spirit in playing this fine composition.
Lightsey resurrects John Coltrane’s epic “Giant Steps” here with his own unique take on this relentlessly climbing composition that always seems to be reaching for but never quite arriving at its destination. The pianist finds slightly angular approaches to this memorable theme, and he ends with his own creative take at the coda.
Shorter’s “Wild Flower” ends this marvelous album. The pianists accompanying left-hand sets the rhythmic pulse as his right hand explores, with a patience and richness that allows the music to blossom like the synanthesis of the wildflower it was named for.Kirk Lightsey has played and recorded many of these songs over his career and yet there are always new ideas to be mined by a seasoned artist. Like a traveler who frequents a familiar road, we can always find new things to explore, new ways to find alternate paths in the music. This album offers a most recommended way to spend just under thirty-five minutes of basking in this man's artistry.