What makes this jazz piano legend's magic more appealing is that here he works it on a score of mostly familiar standards, blowing off the dust of disinterest with gusts of creative genius up and down the keyboard, wielding ornamentations with a speed and intricacy simply inaccessible to most players. Despite some misapprehensions of the man, Tatum is not just a show-off. Like his contemporary Thelonious Monk, who seemed to share Tatum's love for the American popular songbook, Tatum lays down strong stride when he feels like it, swings magnificently and is capable of gentle (and ornate) approaches to ballads such as "Stardust" and "Mean to Me."
Perhaps more than Monk, Tatum respectfully establishes each song's original melody, though he may elsewhere elaborate on or abstract from it. In some cases, Tatum seems to draw more on a song's lyrical content, as in his dizzying take on "You Go to My Head," which evokes the company of a brilliant, talky, entrancing woman. "Tea For Two" is goofily intoxicating, as is Monk's serving of the same song, but Tatum's is less restrained. "Cherokee" provides a good chance to admire the sublime voicings of the pianist, as well as his ability to cross each new verse, chorus and bridge differently from the song's last.
Tatum neatly guarantees that neither he nor any of these chestnuts will ever decompose.
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