Various Artists

Memphis Piano Convention

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Producer and pianist James Williams gathered five fellow pianists with Memphis roots for this lively pair of solo piano sessions in the studio. Most of them were inspired in part by the late Phineas Newborn, whose spirit is present throughout both dates, according to Williams. Donald Brown's bluesy interpretation of "Poinciana" contrasts with his soft understated touch during "The Second Time Around." Charles Thomas, one of many pianists who chose to shun the limelight of New York City, deserves wider recognition. His buoyant treatment of "What Am I Here For" is followed by a lovely original ballad full of twists and turns, "The Sphinx." Russell Wilson, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and pianist for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra at the time of the recordings, performs Maurice Ravel's beautiful Sonatine (Minuet) and an equally stunning arrangement of Randy Weston's "Little Niles." Harold Mabern's striding treatment of "Sweet Lorraine" will get the most lethargic feet tapping; his arrangement of Leroy Vinnegar's little-known "For Carl" is also inspired. Mulgrew Miller savors every chord within the pretty ballad "Dancing on the Ceiling," while the producer discovers new beauty in the old hymn "Just as I Am," revealing his strong roots in church music. This CD is a must for fans of solo piano.

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