Billy Mayerl: Original Recordings, Vol. 1

by: Billy Mayerl

This entertaining set from Naxos collects numerous Billy Mayerl recordings, showing both the eccentric, crazy-fingered side of the British pianist while also including his more conventional period pieces. "Marigold" -- Mayerl's defining performance -- is here; it even provides inspiration for the cover art. "All-Of-A-Twist" shows off Mayerl's wild abandon on the ivories, traveling up and down the keyboard while still staying within the framework of 1920s instrumental style -- it's like the rapid-fire soundtrack of an early motion picture. You can just see the herky-jerky footage, with a smiling man in a straw boater riding his penny farthing bicycle, turning to the lens as if to speak, and laughing when he realizes he's on camera. At the same time, Mayerl's slower material shows a flair for nuance. The suites -- "Three Miniatures in Syncopation" and "Three Dances in Syncopation" -- each move beautifully through quiet moments and flashes of tittering keys. Again, it's easy to hear it and imagine the gray scale snapshot of a British Pathé newsreel, turning its cameras on an estate sale, or a public appearance by Princess Elizabeth. While his introspective suites showed needed depth, it was his rapid-fire, oddly-timed compositions with which Mayerl really made his name, and Original Recordings doesn't disappoint. Besides "All-Of-A-Twist," there's "Jazzaristrix," "Virginia Creeper," and the fabulously wacky "Honky-Tonk." The set is a great overview of a talented pianist's work while being incredibly provocative for his particular time period.

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