As he sat down to play the opening notes of this 2019 concert, Martial Solal, pianist and doyen of French jazz, had not yet decided whether it was to be his last performance. He was 91 at the time and had been in the spotlight for 70 years. His account of his musings on this subject – calm, lucid, Gallic – makes the best album note I’ve read in years.
Age has certainly not softened Solal’s playing. He starts with scraps of melody, a few chords, a rhythmic idea, and builds dazzling musical structures. There’s a piece here, called Medley Ellington, which uses bits of Duke Ellington tunes in this way. Solal is a renowned composer, having made his reputation in 1960 with the score for the classic film Breathless. On this recording, however, he chooses mainly standards. I can’t imagine what the composers of Tea for Two would have made of his witty deconstruction of their harmless little ditty. On the other hand, My Funny Valentine is a tour de force, intense and emotionally charged. A perfect ending. Solal’s mind was made up. This had been his final concert.