Picks and Pans Review: Jazz Poet

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tommy Flanagan

Seduced by the percussive nature of the piano, many jazz musicians attack the keyboard with slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am bravado. But it requires limitless patience to coax the instrument to yield its more delicate charms.

At 60, Flanagan is the finest lyric pianist around. Having helped stoke the rhythmic fires on such seminal '50s albums as Sonny Rollins's Saxophone Colossus (Prestige) and John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic), he perfected a feathery touch in more than a decade as Ella Fitzgerald's accompanist. Now, leading one of the best trios in jazz, he has come to epitomize grace and elegance.

With seemingly telepathic support from George Mraz (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums), Flanagan turns Matt Dennis's "That Tired Routine Called Love" into a restless romp and brings a lilting tenderness to J.J. Johnson's "Lament." On up-tempo versions of Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck" and Juan Tizol's "Caravan," he glides through the changes with an ease that calls to mind the movements of Fred Astaire.

While avoiding pyrotechnics and clich├ęs, Flanagan plays with such self-assurance that his harmonic and rhythmic choices seem constantly surprising, and perfect. He makes it seem as if the piano were singing a song of itself. (Timeless)

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