True or false, right or wrong, listeners often make a distinction between "white jazz" and "black jazz." White jazz (Brubeck, Allison, etc.) tends to be inventive, cerebral and very conscious of technique. The black variety (Oscar Peterson, Armstrong) has heart, swing, blue notes and - on good days - true genius.
Dave Brubeck is a jazz master, for instance, but his sound was never complete until he added Paul Desmond. Groups often try to get a mix juggling musicians. More and more, however, we're seeing "cerebral and soul" come together in individuals. And, in a way, that phenomenon is the real "fusion jazz."
Wynton Marsalis, with his classical training, is an example. Some of his wrenching riffs sound like scales played on Mars. And Dr. Billy Taylor, back recording now after 30 years, is another.
Taylor is 67 now. In the '70s he received a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, worked as musical director for David Frost and did segments on jazz for National Public Radio. He's even written a book about the history of the jazz piano. But where many musicians get educated beyond their talents, Taylor's education has simply amplified his.
"Solo" is Billy Taylor at the piano. Alone. Tired of the jazz commercialization, he started his own jazz label so he could record what needed to be recorded instead of catering to popular demand. Chances are he'll get both here. These 13 numbers are a joy to have.
Playing without drums and bass, it's difficult to generate true hot jazz swing. Taylor meets the challenge on "Billy's Beat," however, a number that's spontaneous and right - a horse moving easy in harness.
Other tunes here ("All the Things You Are," the Kern-Hammerstein classic, and "A Bit of Bedlam") are experimental jazz from the cutting edge. And then, in a textbook demonstration, Taylor weds the head and heart on several pieces. "Cool and Caressing," for instance, has a rolling "Summertime" laziness about it, but the underpinning chord progression is more intricate than, well, than nuclear fusion.
Let the French and East Europeans say they've eclipsed American jazz. Then let them listen to Billy Taylor. And be quiet.