Friedrich Gulda first made his mark in the world of classical music before making the first of many excursions into jazz. This 1956 date at the original Birdland in New York City features the pianist with some well-chosen sidemen: alto saxophonist Phil Woods, tenor saxophonist Seldon Powell, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, bassist Aaron Bell, and drummer Nick Stabulas. Gulda's originals dominate the set, including the cool ballad "Dark Glow" and several strident bop numbers ("Scruby," "Dodo," and "New Shoes"); his septet also romps through "A Night in Tunisia" and "Bernie's Tune." The assertion that Gulda might be "the greatest piano virtuoso to emerge in the last ten years" is a bit of liner note hyperbole by John Hammond; Gulda is more than adequate but not worthy of comparison to any of the major jazz pianists active at the time of this recording. He does give his sidemen plenty of solo space, and Woods easily takes top solo honors for the evening. One amusing moment is the infamous midget Birdland MC Pee Wee Marquette's mispronunciation of Gulda's first name as "Frederick"; it can be safely assumed that the pianist forgot to tip him ahead of time, based on Marquette's legendary hustling of musicians appearing at the club. Long out of print, this LP has enough interesting moments to make it a worthwhile investment for fans of 1950s bop and cool jazz.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden