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Album: Martial Solal - Coming Yesterday | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Martial Solal - Coming Yesterday

Album: Martial Solal - Coming Yesterday

The great French jazz pianist's last concert

“Thank you. I think I’ve told you everything. I do have a couple more tunes, but I’ll hold them back for next time  I don’t want to bore you, it’s better that you leave here serene. A nice chord like this. (plays F major first inversion). A good impression. Voilà. Merci.”

These were the matter-of-fact and typically considerate parting words with which Martial Solal left the stage at the end of his solo recital at Salle Gaveau in Paris on 23 January 2019, aged 91. It was only announced after the event that the pianist had decided it would be his very last concert. The evening was recorded by France-Musique, and has been issued by the enterprising Dutch jazz label Challenge Records.

Coming Yesterday, then, is the final paragraph of Martial Solal’s musical output. And that gives cause to reflect on what a magnificent career he has had. He describes it humorously and luminously in his autobiography Ma vie sur un tabouret (2008), where, notably, he recalls a major highlight and turning-point. Solal admits that when he was approached by Jean-Luc Godard to write the music for Breathless (1960), he had written a total of only seven minutes of film music. And the director’s left-field suggestion wasn’t exactly helpful either: Godard mused that Solal might want to use “maybe just one instrument… a banjo.” The wily, Algiers-born musician had the good sense to ignore that advice, to settle on a 30-piece studio orchestra, to create a classic, and to go on and score more than 40 films.

Solal has made the solo recital his own art form. He has a delightful way of circling around the contours of tunes like a bird of prey. One theme that was clearly going round and round in his head on that January night at Gaveau was the chromatically sinuous opening phrase of Ellington’s “Caravan”. We also have a comic weirding of “Happy Birthday” which briefly visits Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”, the opening flourishes of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, ending up in “Jingle Bells”.

 In the six-minute “Tea for Two” he again finds joy and humour, as he tries to trip himself up over stride ostinati in the bass. “Sir Jack” (Frère Jacques) is mostly remarkable for the totally different mood which Solal finds here when compared to the Ravelian fantasy he found in the tune in another recent solo recital from Gütersloh in 2017, on the album entitled My One and Only Love. And the title track has passages of fleet dexterity and facility which are astonishing for a man of 91.

Coming Yesterday feels like an important document. And it is salutary to be reminded of at least one of the places where Solal's unique and seemingly boundless creativity and capacity for surprise come from. As he has written in the sleeve note: “Great freedom requires a lot of work. I’ve done my share.”


Solal has made the solo recital his own art form


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