From the opening chords and runs Fred Hughes plays to kick off the album's initial track, "Just in Time," it's clear that this is going to be a spirited session of jazz music. Recorded live in performance before a large and lively crowd at Shepherd College in West Virginia, it matches the enthusiasm of the audience as it wends its way through a program of jazz and jazz standards. There is no sign of the minimalist method in Hughes' playing. It's two-fisted, use-every-key-on-the-board, meat-and-potatoes, I'm-a-virtuoso-style pianism recalling Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Junior Mance, and others of their mettle who played with vigor and exuberance. It doesn't mean that Hughes is heavy-handed or unduly ornate. He can be polished and play with finesse, as on a charming reading of "Emily." It's just that he clearly does his best, which is very good, when he leaves nothing on the keyboard or pedals after a performance. This attitude is shared by the other members of the combo. You can hear it in the solo on "New Day Dawning" by Tom Williams' bass and the right-on-the-mark, not-at-all-meddlesome drumming of Keith MacMichael. But there is one tune where Hughes gets a bit carried away, and that's on the opening of "Solar," where the arpeggios and tremolo tend to overwhelm. But the fervor cools down as once more Williams entertains with excellent bass. Special guest Jim McFalls chips in with an energetic playing of "It Could Happen to You." One suspects that the dynamic playing that evening was spurred on by the animated reaction and support of the spectators, who were having as much fun as the performers. This was a good night for jazz. Recommended.
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