Stride pianists claim lineage from some of the higher royalty of jazz piano, not the least of whom included Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington, and the ultimate strider, Fats Waller. This piano style is noted for its demand on both hands, dazzling elaborate runs and arpeggios, and sophisticated harmonic structure. Among the better-known modern practitioners of this style are the late Don Ewell, Ralph Sutton, and Judy Carmichael. Now comes a new release by Henry Thin Francis of material recorded more than 15 years ago. The CD pulls together cuts from three earlier Francis LPs as well as two previously unissued cuts. This stride pianist is more in the style of Sutton, forsaking the complete reliance on a steady, rhythmic left hand and paying more attention to melody which he does on such cuts as Waller's "Willow Tree" and a stentorian "Harlem Blues." He also demonstrates that stride need not be all glitter and gloss with a lovely "Prelude to a Kiss" featuring deft, delicate runs. But Francis knows where the best music for this kind of piano playing comes from. The play list is dominated by pieces by Waller and Ellington. If there is any doubt that a good stride pianist can go at blazing speed without missing a chord, that should be resolved after hearing Francis' racehorse rendition of "Handful of Keys." Despite his considerable talent and wisely selected play list, the music is still stride and after a while, begins to show its limitations. Nonetheless, Francis is an extremely competent player and this album would be good to have on the shelf to take down now and then when in the mood for some rollicking, good-natured piano playing.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan