Jazz with versatility from Lenny Marcus
After albums in tribute to the late pianist Ray Bryant, one of his early teachers, and albums of jazz versions of Beethoven, Lenny Marcus follows up with “Second Set,” an album of jazz originals, Beethoven and American popular songs. Marcus, a former Triangle resident who lives in Roanoke, Va., is noted not only for such versatility but also for his strong left hand pulse, the catchy rhythms of his original tunes and playing, and the thematic development of his solos. “Second Set” features trio members bassist Rick Eckberg and drummer Larry Scott along with percussionist Vladimir Espinosa and tenor saxophonist and flutist Tom Artwick.
The album starts with five Marcus originals. The title tune is akin to the jaunty, bluesy tunes heard on his Bryant albums, and Artwick, on tenor, makes a good impression with his clean, take-your-time melodicism, inviting tone and rhythmic spark. “Vienna Vamp” incorporates Espinosa’s percussion, and near the end of the performance Marcus gets into an Oscar Peterson-like, hard-driving groove.
Among the pop songs on the album are “Emperor’s Favorite Things” (a take-off on “My Favorite Things”), “What’s New” (delivered with a scurrying piano beat akin to that of Mose Allison) and a clipped, Ahmad Jamal-ish “What Is This Thing Called Love?” On “Maple Syrup” (a variation on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”) Marcus gets to exercise his stride piano chops.
The Beethoven pieces and variations (“Appassionata Jazz Sonata” and “The Emperor”) reflect Marcus and company’s ability to transform these classical compositions into vehicles for jazz harmony and swing.
Correspondent Owen Cordle