By Jack Rummel
Philippe Souplet, piano
(No label, no number)
I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan / Here Comes the Band
/ Chelsea Bridge / The Mule Walk / Honey Hush / Ellington-Strayhorn Medley:
Passion Flower; Mood Indigo; Prelude to a Kiss; Do Nothing till You Hear From Me
/ If Dreams Come True / Morning Air / Retrospection / It Don’t Mean a Thing
(If It Ain’t Got That Swing) / I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling /
Conversation on Park Avenue / Melancholia / Ain’t Misbehavin’.
A recent email contained an announcement of the release of a new CD by a French pianist, Philippe Souplet. Curious, I requested a review copy which soon arrived. I was suitably impressed by his talents but the liner notes told me nothing about him, describing only the compositions on his playlist. Determined to learn more, I did what any modern-day sleuth would do: I googled him. Imagine my surprise to discover that he is a mathematics professor in Paris who has authored a text on superlinear parabolic problems and edits a newsletter devoted to differential equations! And, it seems he’s also a darned fine stride pianist with his own You Tube channel and a strong following in his native country.
Subtitled “Fat Lions, Gentle Dukes and Other Old Friends,” this disc pays homage to Willie “The Lion” Smith, Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson and Fats Waller – all claimed by Souplet to be his heroes. His playlist contains a good blend of lesser known tunes and old favorites and everything is intimately recorded on a quality concert grand, giving the listener a perfect front-row seat. His style is clean and his arrangements are never boring.
Souplet takes a gentler approach to stride, although he can romp with the best of them, as evidenced by Smith’s Here Comes the Band and Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), his arrangement of which made it my instant favorite cut. I also liked his somewhat slower take on Johnson’s Mule Walk, which for the first time allowed me to focus on melody and syncopation, instead of having to be impressed only by speed. On slower numbers (perhaps best described as “cocktail” stylings), Souplet also dazzles by unleashing torrents of arpeggios and runs at quicksilver tempos, reminding us that these numbers are not merely background music.
To me, Philippe Souplet has chosen to record a more respectful stride album, where speed is a factor but is not the factor, where reverence is shown to his “heroes” and where the listener can savor the compositions and be impressed by the musicality of stride, an aspect that is often trampled by its pace.
Available for €21 (US$30) postpaid from <firstname.lastname@example.org>. PayPal is accepted.