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Erroll Garner – Magician (Octave/Mack Avenue)

27 May 2020

The reliably dazzling pianist Erroll Garner was best known for composing the melody of the Johnny Mathis hit “Misty” and bringing jazz to the masses with his album Concert by the Sea, which was a Top 20 entry on the pop charts in 1958. He was also a pioneer in the defense of artists’ rights, battling Columbia Records for control of his music and launching his own Octave Records label in the ‘60s.

Magician is the 11th in the reissue series of a dozen Octave albums that began last year, and it’s a total delight. Seemingly fluent in any style, Garner ranges from originals like the gorgeous “Nightwind” and the gospel-flecked “One Good Turn” to gems such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and the Carpenters smash “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” transforming the saccharine Bacharach-David tune into a rowdy expression of joy. If Garner sometimes seems too extravagant in his approach, possessed by the urge to play too many notes, his obvious exuberance renders any reservations moot. Just listen to his romping take on “I Only Have Eyes for You” and try not to smile. It can’t be done.