Although Larry Willis had played fusion and electric jazz-rock in the 1970s, the Willis heard on 1988's enjoyable, if conventional, My Funny Valentine is a more conservative post-bopper/hard bopper whose main reference points include McCoy Tyner, Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans. Willis plays the acoustic piano exclusively on this CD, and standards are a high priority. Nothing cutting-edge occurs, just straight-ahead jazz that's honest, warm and melodic. Most of the selections are trio numbers with bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster, although the pianist is joined by the passionate alto saxman Kenny Garrett on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," Garrett's insistent "For Openers" and Willis' haunting "Ethiopia." As a trio pianist, Willis is in good form on such often recorded standards as "My Funny Valentine," "Lazy Afternoon" and Billy Strayhorn's "Bloodcount" -- all of which demonstrate how sensitive a ballad player he can be. Initially released only in Japan by the Jazz City label, My Funny Valentine came out in the U.S. when the Philadelphia-based Evidence Music reissued it in 1998.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson