There might be those who would feel that any jazz pianist who would bestow the modifier beautiful on an album of his solo concert performances suffers from what in technical jargon we call “chutzpah.” Beauty, after all, one should inject, is in the ear of the beholder. On the other hand, if what we’re talking about is the initial solo recording of Christian Jacob, Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert, the work not only fits, it is demanded.
Of course, Jacob’s title was using beautiful to refer to the compositions he was playing rather than his playing of those compositions. It is for the listener to call his playing beautiful, and here is one listener happy to do so. This is great piano jazz in the tradition of such jazz masters as Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Keith Jarrett. It is not that he necessarily sounds like them; it’s more that he builds upon what they have done. He follows where they have led.
In a set of 13 tunes, most from the Great American Songbook, but with a couple of notable jazz classics and even a nod to his classical background, Jacob proves himself an artist of the first order. He plays with subtlety when necessary. He plays with panache when called for. This is an artist who knows his way around his instrument. Like many a modern jazz musician, his early training before turning to jazz was in classical music – it was not wasted. It is not just that he can handle the likes of a Stravinsky etude with seeming ease, as he does on the album’s fourth track. It is more that he is no less at ease with complexity of musical ideas in the language of jazz.
Including such warhorses as “It Might as Well Be Spring” and “Tea for Two,” he varies the program with tunes like “One Note Samba” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” There is a thorough arrangement of “September Song,” a version of “Surry with a Fringe on Top” combining both composed and improvised sections, and in what he calls a tribute to Bill Evans, his take on “I’m Old Fashioned” where the melody is played with “slightly different harmonization.” It is a solo concert with a lot of variety, as Jacob documents what he calls in the liner notes his “love to the timeless, iconic standards that brought me to this world of beautiful jazz.”