James P. Johnson

The Gods Are in the House

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AllMusic Review by

At first glance, this has all the trappings of a beautifully conceived collection of jazz piano recordings dating from the years 1929-1955, played by three master musicians who influenced each other, much as Duke Ellington influenced Thelonious Monk who in turn influenced Duke Ellington. On closer scrutiny, however, it is (as is clearly printed on the album cover) a set of "unique recreations of classic piano recordings" that were devised using a bloodless process by which data derived from phonograph recordings and player piano rolls was fed into a computer, resulting in 29 "piano solos" that resemble the originals to some extent but often seem to lack the organic wonderment that made James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Art Tatum three of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. The biggest drawbacks appear to be altered rhythm and intonation resulting in a loss of swing, and the lack of immediacy that can easily occur when data from a sound recording is completely reconfigured through too much hi-tech processing. Johnson's two 1943 Blue Note solos, for example ("Carolina Balmoral" and "Improvisations on Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," each exceeding four minutes in duration) sound better in the original format -- not "cleaner", but more authentic. The piano rolls fare much better, as was the case with Artis Wodehouse's profoundly successful Yamaha Disklavier modifications of Jelly Roll Morton piano rolls which were released by Nonesuch in 1997. A comparison between Wodehouse's Morton album and "digital editor" Peter Reynolds' The Gods Are in the House will illustrate the timeless truth that it's not what you use that counts, but how you use it. While The Gods Are in the House will suit the needs of those who seek a pleasant, unobtrusive background listening experience, the original recordings which were tapped for the project are guaranteed to convey more of the essential living magic of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Art Tatum. A few words regarding the album's title: legend has it that Waller once introduced Tatum to an audience saying "Ladies and gentlemen, I just play piano, but God is in the house tonight!" While this story accurately evokes Waller's profound respect for his younger colleague, it has been challenged by other musicians including Charles Mingus, who insisted that Waller simply said "Oh God, Tatum is in the house tonight". Apocryphal or not, the tale was tapped for a title to this rather sanitized album of technologically reconstituted piano jazz. The grim irony is: these piano gods are not here at all, any more than computer-generated cartoon characters are real people.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Art Tatum
03:00
2
feat: Art Tatum
02:38
3
feat: Art Tatum
02:05
4
feat: Art Tatum
02:32
5
feat: Art Tatum
01:55
6
feat: Art Tatum
02:06
7
feat: Art Tatum
02:29
8
feat: Art Tatum
02:53
9
feat: Art Tatum
02:22
10
feat: Art Tatum
02:00
11
feat: Art Tatum
02:08
12
feat: Art Tatum
01:46
13
feat: Art Tatum
02:30
14
feat: Fats Waller
03:12
15
feat: Fats Waller
03:11
16
feat: Fats Waller
02:03
17
feat: Fats Waller
01:52
18
feat: Fats Waller
02:55
19
feat: Fats Waller
02:38
20
feat: Fats Waller
02:28
21
feat: Fats Waller
02:21
22 02:41
23
02:29
24 03:26
25 03:35
26 04:24
27
04:10
28 03:05
29 03:20
blue highlight denotes track pick