Saturday, April 29, 2023

Benny Green Brings His Pianistic Excellence to Portland's 1905

Benny Green 

Last night, the superb pianist Benny Green played two solo piano shows at Portland's fantastic jazz club 1905. I was fortunate enough to get to see him play the first set. Green is a seasoned musician who paid his dues as a pianist with jazz greats like Betty Carter, Art Blakey, and Ray Brown. Along the way, Green found time to be a potent sideman for many notable others like Freddie Hubbard, Don Braden, Houston Person, and Ralph Moore to name just a few. He has been recording as a leader since his first record "Prelude" in 1988 and has twenty albums as a leader in his discography. One of my favorites was "Source" from 2010 with the astute rhythm section of Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, which he was nice enough to sign my copy of after the show.

On this night Green played the grand piano solo and treated the full and respectful crowd to a series of songs mined from some of jazz history's recognizable, but often forgotten pianist/composers treasure chest.

The set started out with Tadd Dameron's gorgeous "If You Could See Me Now" and followed with a who's who of piano legends' work -Horace Silver's "Come On Home," John Hicks' "Naima's Love Song, "Hank Jones "Minor Contention," Bobby Timmons "This Here." Let's not forget compositions from Barry Harris, Duke Pearson, or master Tommy Flanagan's "Minor Mishap." 

The man has an encyclopedic memory bank of songs that he can play like they are tattooed in his cerebral cortex. Green is a facile player who employed stunningly fast arpeggios on Kenny Barron's "NY Attitude." He chose one of McCoy Tyner's more beautiful ballads "Sunset"  to show his sensitivity and subtle touch, and ended with alto saxophonist Benny Carter's wonderful "When Lights Are Low."

I've heard Green's scorching piano work on Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit" from his "Source" album- the man has chops- and he showed them judiciously here. He could stride with the best of them, peppers in some boogie-woogie, give some funk a la Silver, and his double-handed Shearing-like attack on a few songs was pure pleasure.
Despite his knowledge of the history and the influences that he has absorbed- Powell, Oscar Peterson, and Wynton Kelly have been mentioned-Green's playing is all his own and it was a delight to see, hear him on stage and engage with him after the show. Benny Green is a true pianistic treasure that should not be missed.

Benny's latest release will be titled Solo and release on May 12, 2023.