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Tommy Flanagan Trio

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TOMMY FLANAGAN TRIO

A Tommy Flanagan album of some years back bore the title Jazz Poet, and that characterization remains remarkably appropriate today. Though Flanagan improvises his lines, his pianistic utterances can have the carefully worked, judiciously edited quality of hard-won verse. His solos often contain internal rhymes--musical phrases that echo previous or forthcoming ones--and he conveys them in a clear and consistent artistic vision. What's more, Flanagan long ago established himself among the most literate of jazzmen, and not only because of the steady stream of his unexpected (and unexpectedly placed) musical allusions: his solos embrace the fine points of musical grammar, syntax, and meter without turning such tenets into shackles. Flanagan represents the flowering of bebop in the truest sense--the expansion of the original idiom into a more versatile jazz style that retains the language and integrity of bebop but places it at the service of a wider range of emotions. In fact, Flanagan remains one of the signal figures of that movement. Along with such long-gone contemporaries as Sonny Clark, Red Garland, and Wynton Kelly, he created the piano sound of the 1950s--a spare, almost haunting piano fabric stretched beneath the hard-bop horns, which would give way to relaxed but exacting chiaroscuro solos. (And none of these pianists proved more versatile than Flanagan, who served as longtime musical director for Ella Fitzgerald, but who also played behind John Coltrane on his groundbreaking recording "Giant Steps.") Like anyone else's, Flanagan's sound starts with his touch: his physical connection with, and transference of force to, the keyboard. But he plays with a resonance that derives at least as much from the actual shape and phrasing of his melody lines, which gracefully protract the notes even at the fastest tempos. This gives his solos an extra presence, as the notes arrive with an almost tangible weight and seem to ring a split second longer than anyone else's--just enough time to fully appreciate the spidery precision of his design. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 670-2473.

NEIL TESSER

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