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REVIEW: Jack Reilly At Maybeck Recital Hall
September 23, 2010

by Doug Ramsey (www.rifftides.com)

Jack Reilly, Live At Maybeck Recital Hall (Unichrom).

Maybeck is a small hall in Berkeley, California, loved by pianists and listeners for the perfection of its acoustics. Carl Jefferson of Concord Records was so taken with the sound of the room that he initiated a series of 42 solo piano recordings there. It began with Joanne Brackeen in 1989 and ended with James Williams in 1995. In between is a variety of the finest pianists in jazz, among them Dick Hyman, Jaki Byard, Ellis Larkins, Jessica Williams, Hank Jones and George Cables. After pianist Dick Whittington bought Maybeck, but before Concord discovered it, Jack Reilly was one of the first artists who played there, so he is not included in the series. That is a pity, because Reilly’s Maybeck concert equals the best of the Concord Maybeck albums.

All is not lost, however. Reilly recently discovered that his 1988 concert existed on a cassette tape. He concluded that it was some of his best playing and decided to release Reilly maybeck_cov.jpgit on Unichrom, his private label. The transfer to CD may not bring the sound up to 2010 digital perfection, but it is entirely listenable. The slight sandpaperiness around the audio edges does nothing to obscure Reilly’s virtuosity and creativity. Into a program of jazz and classical pieces he pumps energy, imagination and—in some cases—swing that is almost physically palpable. His program encompasses Cesar Franck, Chopin, Ravel, Strayhorn, Ellington, Gershwin, Bill Evans and two of his own compositions. His opening piece is the Franck “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue,” performed with subtlety, power and fidelity to the composer.

Reilly introduces jazz to the concert when he melds Chopin’s C-major Prelude with “Take the ‘A’ Train” and the Chopin G-minor Prelude with “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.” The commonality he finds in Chopin and Strayhorn, Chopin and Ellington, corroborates Ellington’s famous dictum that there are only two kinds of music—good music and the other kind. Reilly makes a medley of a Ravel minuet and three Evans pieces, incorporating stride passages into “Waltz for Debby” and giving “Peri’s Scope” harmonic complexity that enhances the joy of his presentation. “November” is a fast ¾ modal piece that swirls, rumbles and blusters like the month that gave it its name.

Reilly introduces some of the usual suspects into the lineup of his Gershwin medley, invigorating “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “My Man’s Gone Now” with tempo and harmonic shifts, and ending with an “I Got Rhythm” that summarizes his pianism and musicianship. It has blindingly fast tremolos and runs worthy of Tatum, the left hand rampant on a field of stride, sophisticated chord substitutions in shifting harmonies and a free flurry at the top of the keyboard that might make Cecil Taylor raise an eyebrow.
Throughout the concert, Reilly goes through chordal hoops and dazzling time shifts while giving the listener melody to hold onto; a neat trick. He is an original.

Jack Reilly: Pure Passion: Solo Piano Improvisations (2005) from allaboutjazz.com

Published: August 15, 2005 ALLABOUTJAZZ>COM
Jack Reilly: Pure Passion: Solo Piano Improvisations

With the surprising wealth of exceptional music out there, discovering any new artist is always a treat. But when one comes across a performer as impressive as Jack Reilly—a pianist who, while performing for over 45 years, has mysteriously remained outside the watchful eye of the greater jazz fan base—that joy of discovery is equally coloured with a sense of curiosity. After all and with rare exception, Reilly has worked solely under his own steam, releasing a small body of work that ranges from collaborating with artists like singer Sheila Jordan, bassist Harvie Swartz, and saxophonist Joe Maneri on his impressive '98 release Masks, to producing a series of solo piano works that include the two-volume Tzu-Jan and, most recently, Pure Passion: Solo Piano Improvisations.

For those new to Reilly, Pure Passion is a perfect entry point, mixing a programme of ten standards—some well-heeled, others less so—with half a dozen Reilly originals, demonstrating his outside-the-box interpretive skills. The pianist is faithful to every song's core, while spinning a new and imaginative tale each time.

Reilly's ability to liberally expand on a song without losing sight of what makes it distinctive demands obvious reference to Keith Jarrett. But the fact is, that while Jarrett's piano improvisations—even when they're based around a popular tune—are a kind of stream-of-consciousness catharsis, Reilly—who is no more restricted by convention—seems somehow more considered, even as he takes a tune like "'Round Midnight and refashions it. Reilly makes sure that there are some familiar signposts along the way, but how he navigates between them is completely unexpected. Sometimes it's not the destination but how you get there, and Reilly consistently makes his improvisations trips worth taking, filled with enticing sights and surprising turns.

Reilly's unfettered use of dynamics and an elastic time sense, only possible in a solo setting, allows an oft-covered tune like "Summertime to take on a completely different complexion. He leans to the impressionistic and at times the romantic, but there's a more direct tie to classical roots than to pianists like Bill Evans—although there's no question that Evans factors into Reilly's collected experience. But what makes Pure Passion so remarkable is that, despite its reliance on the standards repertoire, it's a completely contemporary work. All the while it retains the accessibility and sense of tradition that more rooted players like Hank Jones or Cedar Walton demonstrate under the same circumstances.

The true test of an interpreter of standards material, in the context of a larger solo performance, is whether he can somehow blur the line between the familiar and the unfamiliar, connecting the listener equally to both. Reilly doesn't apply a different aesthetic to his own compositions—they demonstrate the same road markers, giving them a discernable structure, yet often weave their way between them in less than predictable ways.

With Pure Passion as an entry point to the talents of Jack Reilly, the good news is that there's plenty more where that came from.

Track Listing: All the Things You Are; Round Midnight; Ghost of a Chance; WIth a Song in My Heart; Das Fryderyk; Can't Get Started; Summertime; These Foolish Things; Nobody's Heart; Everything I Love; You Don't Know What Love Is; Kim; Aria for Freddy; Six Plus Six; Sixth Cycle of Sevens; Blues for Gp.

Personnel: Jack Reilly: piano.

Record Label: Unichrom | Style: Straightahead/Mainstream


Reilly's Trifecta

November 17, 2009 review by Clint Tsao

Jazz pianist and composer Jack Reilly continued his impressive series of performances with Innocence, Music for Healing at The Johns Hopkins Weinberg Ceremonial Lobby on November 17, 2009. The noontime set was just the tonic in the middle of a work week and provided much needed relief, hope, and entertainment to the appreciative audience. Assisted by veteran bassist Ashton Fletcher, the two played as if they had been touring for years. What followed was a nice selection of Reilly composed pieces. The program was divided into three parts with choice excerpts from The Silence of the Heart, The Green Spring Suite, and Sonata in D Minor. The Silence of the Heart segment was dedicated to Dr. Martin Abeloff who had passed away recently.

The six selections form a compassionate and optimistic mood. Starting with Db Major, a solemn measured beginning, and through C# Minor and its upbeat tempo and D Major with its more abstract structure, it carries an emotional resonance punctuated with daring plateaus complemented by playful rhythms. With D Minor, this jaunty celebration continues its playful bouquet of notes culminating in a melodic flurry. Eb Minor tones down and slows the pace and the final piece, F Major, uplifts the mood again and ends in a joyous flourish.

The next part, The Green Spring Suite, with four selections, was inspired by Mr. Reilly’s treatment at The Johns Hopkins Green Spring location, and is a tribute to the staff who helped his recovery. Beginning with Oncological, there is an energy and positive inspiration which contrasts with Rn’t Any with its stately, honorable tone that rises to a majestic height. Caroline is full of life and vigor and displays a lofty spirit, and it comes back to earth after a nice ride. Concluding with Gobaj, a series of repetitive chords are countered by imaginative melodies with an Indian influence before returning to familiar ground. The last part was represented by Mr. Reilly’s early composition, Sonata in D Minor from 1957, which sounds fresh even by today’s standards. Originally a solo piano piece, it was reworked into a duet with Mr. Fletcher. This performance was abbreviated and moderately paced. It nevertheless confirmed the talent and creativity of what was to come, demonstrating an early innovative approach to traditional jazz. A gratified audience demanded an encore which Mr. Reilly and Mr. Fletcher accommodated with a zippy tune. It was a nice conclusion to a welcome celebration of life and creativity through music.

Jack Reilly in London * * * * (4 stars)

Review by John Fordham
Wednesday January 5, 2005
The Guardian (UK)

Note: In December 2004, The Guardian, one of England's largest newspapers, recommended the performance reviewed below in its list" The 50 best Things to Do This Christmas"! To quote:

"The Christmas mood, but with an edge: early-evening contemporary jazz in the glowing interior of St Cyprian's Church, featuring the acerbically vigorous piano music of American Jack Reilly. Reilly studied with cool school legend Lennie Tristano and has worked for visionary composer George Russell. Brad Mehldau fans may find some fascinating connections in Reilly's adventurous improvising. St Cyprian's Church, London NW1 (020-7724 2389), on December 22."

Four days before the latest catastrophe to tax the hopes of the religious, 73-year-old American pianist Jack Reilly premiered a jazz suite in a London church composed as a personal thanksgiving for life. Reilly survived cancer in 2002. His Green Spring Suite is dedicated to the medics who saved him, and the Baptist church he attended during the worst of it. If that implies pious music of sotto voce intonations, bear in mind Reilly's track record, which includes partnering legends such as Ben Webster, George Russell and Sheila Jordan, and a body of ruggedly distinctive jazz composing.

He played the London premiere of the Green Spring Suite with locals Dave Green on bass and Stephen Keogh on drums, and though the organisation was tight and the improvising spliced into narrow gaps in the structure, the music emitted a flickering brightness that was of a piece with the glimmers and dancing reflections in the candlelight.Reilly's opening pieces reflected his Bill Evans allegiances in their quiet flourishes and shifting harmonies, and the mid-tempo swinger Oncological - its suspended unaccompanied release leaning on the main theme - displayed his remarkable clarity of single-line playing over Keogh's delicate cymbal beat and Green's sure-footed walk.

Some of the music suggested French pianist Jacques Loussier's spinning of jazz lines out of classical harmonies - sometimes contemplatively, sometimes against a Latin undertow from Keogh's brushwork.The second half brought a delicious wash of dewy sounds turning into a dancing vamp (Gobaj); a growling bowed bass intro that became a trickle of treble piano notes thickening into Gershwin-like chords; a swoony movie-music theme that evolved into free-improvisation; then Blues For All, the only older Reilly composition. Many pianists have grown on the Bill Evans tree, but Reilly is special.

Jack Reilly Trio, “November”

* * * * 4 stars (Progressive Records)

Also reviewed:
Jack Reilly, “Pure Passion”

(Unichrom Records)

by John Fordham, The Guardian (UK)
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Jack Reilly is the kind of performer who grips the attention for following the spirit rather than the letter of jazz. This accomplished American pianist has studied with Cool School guru Lennie Tristano and worked for George Russell, Ben Webster and Sheila Jordan. Like the much younger Brad Mehldau, the Staten Island pianist moves between Bill Evans-inflected thoughtfulness (a patience with theme-and-variations often explored with a classical carefulness) and an ability to make an extended improvisation vault over the parochial, close-focus limitations of the standard song.

These two recent Reilly releases feature an early trio disc (November, from 1981) reissued, and a newly recorded unaccompanied piano album (Pure Passion) featuring a mix of standards and originals. The earlier set finds Reilly with former Dave Brubeck bassist Jack Six and drummer Ronnie Bedford, and its repertoire is original, with the exception of a restlessly reinvented account of With a Song In My Heart. That tune touches on Evans a great deal in its chording and harmonies, and Reilly also has much of Evans's instinct for constantly relaunching solos from new melodic locations, so the music always conveys a sense of movement and dynamism.

Reilly's spontaneous reshaping of the chord voicings on the ballad January is delicious (against Six's dark bass rejoinders) before the introduction of a coy rocking figure launches the tune into swing, and bursts of free-piano impressionism take it further out. Ahmad Jamal's florid style expands on the initially devious, fidgety Minor Your Own Amos, and Reilly's ability to inexhaustibly expand on a long run - through ripping, semi-free chords, big movie-theme declamations and darting trebly lines - has an intoxicating wildness.

The solo album is a more contemplative affair, being 10 standards and six Reilly originals, their predominant mood ruminative. Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight opens with slow chords followed by a pretty orthodox statement of the theme, and builds steadily through a panoramic development, much more grandiose than anything of Monk's. Ghost of a Chance confirms Reilly's ability to invest weight and emotional depth to old pop songs, and he's at his most lyrically inventive on his own Das Fryderyk, a melancholy, tender tune. Summertime also has allegiances to classical music and to the playing of a throttled-back, but still formidably virtuosic Art Tatum. The solo album is perhaps restricted in its appeal by its propensity to be pensive, but the steadily-building, gently swinging Blues For GP shows how conventionally groovy and down to earth Reilly can be. Old dogs maybe, but plenty of new tricks.

Jack Reilly Trio: "November"
Progressive Records..2003

by JOHN GILBERT (Staff writer -Sony/Columbia Records)

This album was taped in a live performance at New York City's Jazz Forum on April 30, 1981. Except for track one, "With A Song In My Heart" these are original compositions by Jack Reilly from the late 60's to the 70's.

Reilly is a true a virtuoso of the piano with remarkable facility and ideation. One might hear a flicker of Bud Powell or a whisper of Bill Evans (done with reverential regard) but clearly Jack Reilly has a unique style along with rhythmic flexibility and the ability to swing...He paints with his own brush.... And is definitely the sine qua non on this recording.

"With A Song In My Heart" There was no thin gruel here, only fat chords and a jaunty message filled solo from Reilly. On the 8 bar exchanges with the drummer, Mr. Reilly was merciless.

Bud Powell was talked about a bit on "Minor Your Own Amos" as the pianist unleashed a torrent of impressionistic bop lines. The drums and bass were clearly inspired on this tune.

"Lento For Carol" has a thought provoking melody and a haunting quality that conjures up the bittersweet pall (on occasion) of love

This is a trio that epitomizes the true meaning of sophistication and professionalism in the jazz world today.

Tracks, With A Song In My Heart, January, Minor Your Own Amos, November, Lento For Carol, Kyrie.

Jack Reilly (p), Jack Six (b), Ronnie Bedford (d / percussion

CADENCE MAGAZINE: Review: "Pure Passion" CD

All the Things You Are/ Round Midnight/ Ghost of a Chance/ With a Song in My Heart/ Das Fryderyk/ Can’t Get Started/ Summertime/ These Foolish Things/ Nobody’s Heart/ Everything I Love/ You Don’t Know What Love Is/ Kim/Aria for Freddy/ Six Plus Six/ Sixth Cycle of Sevens/ Blues for GP. Total time:68:48.

Jack Reilly: solo piano.
Reilly is an elegant and eloquent player who likes to gradually build up layers of intensity. He can be heard at his most brilliant and intricate during the thick, double-tempo impressionism that he generates during a seven minute exposition of “With a Song in My Heart” or the swinging double-tempo transformation of Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” where his passionate technique summons the ghost of Tatum. Yet the elaboration is all Reilly’s not least because “gradually” is rarely descriptive of the Tatum manner, and Reilly’s double-tempo variations do not kick in until about the 5:50 market in “With a song in My Heart,” while “Everything I Love” unfolds in three sections with a sophistication and scope that is Reilly’s alone. As a collection of improvised ballads, this one sounds easy on the ear, being both soothing and contemplative, and yet there is a lot more going on here than just decorative and florid tinkling. At his best, Reilly generates rhapsodic variations out of “All the Things You Are,” “Ghost of a Chance,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “Can’t Get Started,” “Summertime,” “These Foolish Things,” “Nobody’s Heart,” Everything I Love” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” to reinvest these familiar songs with a passionate intelligence that makes them sound fresh again. Not only does he add his own insights into the lingering possibilities for the great North American songbook – and it is clear from the evidence here that its rich potential is far from exhausted yet – Reilly’s evident artistry is confirmed by the power of such original compositions as “Das Fryderyk” which teems with intricacy and passion. Five originals close out this project. “Kim” is a delicate portrait that puts me in mind of Debussy, until Reilly lifts the performance with a lyrical sparkle that recalls Bill Evans.

“Aria for Freddy” and “Six Plus Six” are subdued ballad performances; “Sixth Cycle of Sevens” is animated by Reilly’s imagination while “Blues for GP” builds in dramatic fashion. However, I cannot escape the sense that these performances are not integrated into the rest of the programme. They sound as though they belong to another project, of Reilly’s original compositions, rather than to the collection of standards that precede them. Because of that they sound like they have been added on here as filler. That’s really unfortunate because Reilly’s other original “Das Fryderyk” works brilliantly within the context of this project in my opinion. A different sequencing of Reilly’s original material would have avoided this impression, but as it stands this is my only misgiving about a piano project that is otherwise an exemplary demonstration of solo artistry. 

by David Lewis
ęCopyright 2003 Cadence Magazine
Used by permission


Jack Reilly at the Bull's Head, London

by John Fordham, The Guardian, 29 NOV 2003 (UK)

Jack Reilly, the hunched, avuncular, dome-headed pianist and educator from Staten Island, is little known here, but deserved a lot more than two wet nights at a west London pub.

A fine composer as well as pianist, whose methods seem to roll Duke Ellington, Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans and George Gershwin into one, he appeared with a British ensemble including saxophonist Bobby Wellins. Reilly hasn't played in England for 13 years, but his work this week would easily have justified inclusion in the London jazz festival.

Originally a classical player, Reilly— has appeared in all manner of illustrious jazz circumstances and then vanished again, into the study of Indian music, or writing jazz piano guides covering everything from swing to free-improv. He writes words as copiously as music, and has even been a mysterious liner-note scribe operating under the alias Sean Petrahn. However, there are no mysteries about the quality of his playing, which tells compelling stories by unpredictable and restlessly shifting means.

Wellins, a frequently enigmatic and fragmentary constructor of sax solos, balanced Reilly's richer and more comprehensive style well. Drummer Stephen Keogh was a little loud and taut-skinned for him at times, but deftly complementary on brushes. Bassist Dave Green underpinned the music with his customary flexible sonority. Wellins and Reilly conversed laconically on Slow Boat to China, with the pianist easing seamlessly in and out of a loping swing. A classical-sounding liturgical composition of seductive melodies and block-chord embellishments emphasised the composer's narrative style. A similarly episodic feature operated as a tribute to the late Ben Webster - passing through romantic movie-score sweeps, subtle piano swings, a plummy solo from Dave Green and a brief but eloquent finale from Wellins. The saxophonist delivered one of his best sax breaks on Blue Skies. Unspectacularly distinctive music-making.

Jack Reilly and Company Raise the Standards 

a Jazz Review by Don Heckman

Special To The Los Angeles Times 
November 20. 2000

Pianist Jack Reilly has never been content to simply place himself at a keyboard and let his imagination fly. Despite his considerable improvisational skills, his long career has been continually infused with thoughtful probing journeys into the elemental aspects of the way jazz is created. 

A considerable number of those journeys have reached into the music of Bill Evans, a longtime Reilly friend and one whose harmonic vision has been a frequent source of inspiration. (Reilly's insightful book, "The Harmony of Bill Evans," is an impressive technical treatise of particular value to improvising players.) 

Reilly, who is based on the East Coast, also spent a greater deal of time offering his theoretical insights in educational environments, from the New England Conservatory of Music to the New School and New York University. It's unlikely, however, that his teaching admonishments ever provided much advice about what do so while playing in a wind tunnel. And while that might be a somewhat hyperbolic description of what Reilly had to deal with Friday night when his trio (with drummer Paul Kreibich and bassist Richard Simon) performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it's a fair description of what it felt like to be in the audience as a chilly, 15-to-20-mph wind whipped through the venue's open courtyard. 

To its credit, the Reilly trio appeared unaffected by the intemperate conditions as it moved easily through a program largely dominated by standards. The most appealing quality of the music was the consistently rich harmonic schemes, especially noticeable in the ballads, in which Reilly's playing supplemented, and occasionally altered, the songs' original harmonies. 

But he was also capable of shifting gears into blues-tinged groove passages, and it was in these segments that he was especially well aided by Simon's articulate bass work and Kreibich's ever-dependable rhythmic propulsion. 

In fact, the intriguing qualities of Reilly's overall presentation led one to wonder whether his pedagogical activities have had a diminishing effect upon his performance opportunities. Whatever the reason, his playing - even in somewhat difficult circumstances - made clear that he deserves a far wider hearing.



Jack, your playing is a huge contribution to the future possibilities and directions jazz and all music can take."
--- Dave Brubeck

"Sometimes it’s not the destination but how you get there, and Reilly consistently makes his improvisations trips worth taking, filled with enticing sights and surprising turns."


"If life were fair, this artist would not be building his discography with low-visibility indie releases, but would have an ECM or Verve behind him. Maybe we need to get a "musical taste" transplant from the savvy jazz fans K, who have hosted Reilly on three visits since 2002."

---Ted Gioia at JAZZ.COM

" He's (Reilly) certainly a rare individual and plays and writes with utter conviction in styles ranging from free form improv through bebop and mainstream and even into classical music."

--- Duncan Heining, Jazzwise (UK) magazine

..."pianist Jack Reilly has never been content to simply place himself at a keyboard and let his imagination fly. Despite his considerable improvisational skills, his long career has been continually infused with thoughtful probing journeys into the elemental aspects of the way jazz is created."
---The Los Angeles Times

..."one of our great contemporary acoustic pianists...a singular intelligence of remarkable purity and consistency."
-- Chuck Berg, Jazz Times

"Jack's playing is harmonically advanced and technically brilliant and adventurous -- yet his vast working knowledge of jazz and classical music only serves to show the inner beauty of heart and spirit in his music."
--- Jan Stevens, The Bill Evans Webpages

(Read the interview with Jack Reilly

A fine composer as well as pianist, whose methods seem to roll Duke Ellington, Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans and George Gershwin into one...

--- John Fordham, The Guardian

Given his history, his accomplishments, and his interests, Jack Reilly has made himself a melodious Renaissance man, and because of this , is clearly an artist deserving of far wider recognition."
--- Dave Nathan, allmusic.com

..."great virtuosity...adventurous, exciting, innovative, imaginative and accessible all at the same time."
--- Poznan, The Polish Press

..."there is a steady flow of new ideas on all planes, melodic, harmonic, rhythmic...excellent playing."
--- Max Harrison, London

..."Mr. Reilly achieves a compelling synthesis of the jazz and symphonic idioms without resorting to cliche' or formula."
--- Jeffrey Bell-Hanson, Conductor, Keweenaw Symphony, Michigan

Jack Reilly is an official Steinway artist

Photography by: Joe Kirkish
Photo manipulation and nontages: Keffier Adkins


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