The Talk of the Town: Live at the Bimhuis
Legend has it that pianist Sal Mosca, who died in 2007, once turned down a record deal offered by producer Orrin Keepnews because he didn’t want to get “caught in the web of commercial success.” Such self-effacement is rare in performers, who by their very nature choose to step into the spotlight, as opposed to avoiding it. But this quality suffuses Talk of the Town, a generous two-CD live package during which Mosca encourages listeners to focus on the songs as opposed to the person who’s playing them — a decision that, paradoxically, only causes his skills to shine brighter.
Cut in 1992 during a tour of the Netherlands and discovered among Mosca’s private collection, the double album isn’t stuffed with unheralded compositions. Far from it: Standards such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Tea for Two” could hardly be more familiar. Yet Mosca never treats the material condescendingly. He clearly loves each of these melodies, and his faithfulness to them is endearing. Consider his take on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which he embellishes with witty runs, unexpected tempo shifts and sprightly chording that freshens it up without losing its essence, or a “Cherokee” whose rhythmic underpinning is virtuosic without ever seeming that way.
There are medleys aplenty here, including one that embraces a whopping eight songs, among them “Stardust,” “I Cover the Waterfront” and the title tune. But what could have turned into a hoary cliché in other hands becomes undeniably lovely in Mosca’s.
The sheer prettiness of the collection may cause some people to view it as little more than a pleasant lounge set. In truth, The Talk of the Town is a tour through the Great American Songbook in the company of a humble master who adores every page. —Michael Roberts