Walter Norris and Leszek Mozdzer ‘The last set -LIve at the A-Trane’ (ACT) 4/5

This is a live performance with historical significance for it not only represents the sole recorded statement between American pianist Walter Norris and fellow Polish keyboardist Leszek Mozdzer, but is probably the very last recording that Norris performed on before passing away in 2011 and he did so virtually unnoticed. This is surprising when one considers that Walter Norris at the age of twenty-seven played on the early key album by Ornette Coleman, ‘Something else’, and, in addition, performed with musicians of the stature of Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. However, similar to another pianist Denny Zeitlin who pursued a parallel career in psychiatry, Norris chose to opt out of the recording circuit to instead focus on being musical director of the Playboy club in New York. He did so between 1963 and 1970 when he then moved permanently during the early 1970s to Berlin, performing with the SFB Radio Orchestra and then landing the post of professor of jazz piano at the Berlin Music University while at the same time working as a composer and musicologist. On this live outing from November 2008 at the Berlin jazz venue ‘A-Trane, Norris’s musical influences are wide ranging and include both Bud Powell and Art Tatum among jazz musicians and Bartok and Debussy among western classical ones. This classical influence has an oriental flavour on one of Norris’s own compositions, ‘Spider’s web’ which is a lovely flowing piece, while the more expansive ‘From another star’ has shades of McCoy Tyner. The duet pieces with Mozdzer recall the memorable duets between Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock and all but one of the compositions are originals, evenly divided between Mozder (three) and Norris (four), the one standard being a take on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Nefertiti’. The duo excel on the free-flowing ‘Postscript blues’ and on the more introverted piece ‘Reflective’. Walter Norris was anything but a prolific recorder of albums and his debut as a leader dates from 1978 along with two duet albums for Enja with George Mraz again during the 1970s. Walter Norris, who was resident in Berlin at the time, died on 29 October 2011 aged seventy-nine. Tim Stenhouse

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