on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2023 6 Jun

Richie Beirach: Leaving (Jazzlines)

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 18 Comments


Richie Beirach — Leaving

Jazzlines, 2023



Richie Beirach has been recording solo piano albums throughout his 50-year career. During the pandemic, he stated in a video blog post that he missed performing and, at times, didn’t much feel like being at the piano. Certainly for any musician, especially an improvising musician, live performance is the lifeblood of the art.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited this new live solo piano album, Leaving. With the exception of the last track, a medley of two of Beirach’s most well-known compositions, the concert is entirely made up of standards.

In an email exchange with Beirach, I asked him why he made this choice for this live concert/recording:


“It took me years to develop my own concepts and apply them to these simple standards. I didn’t want to play too many of my originals…I feel that, if I can use well-known standards as a basis for my concerts, I already have a frame of reference there for the audience. And then I can really take advantage of that familiarity of the standard and actually go even further out in my interpretations.”


In this live concert, recorded in July 2022 in in front of a relatively small audience at the Château Fleur Cardinale in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, near Bordeaux, France, it is clear that 75-year-old Beirach is very much still at the peak of his powers, both technically and creatively.

Anyone familiar with Beirach’s recorded output will instantly recognize these tunes as core pieces in his standards repertoire. That being said, Beirach is totally committed to reinventing these tunes.

The opener, “Nardis,” is explored from several angles. At times it is reduced to barebones homophony, drawing from chorale-like neoclassical harmonies. Other times, it’s stretched to the edge of the harmonic nether regions. It is alternately swinging, contemplative, ebullient, and brooding.

There are several medleys presented. The first begins with a deep exploration of one of Beirach’s staple tunes, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Under his able fingers, this tune offers a seemingly infinite vehicle for reinterpretation. He uses his signature pedal tones to construct an energetic modal tapestry that builds to a climax and fades away, eventually morphing into a spirited “Alone Together,” and then coming to rest with a wholly original take on “Blue in Green.” At first, the latter is the recognizable classic ballad, but then Beirach re-harmonizes it in a style that hints at classical romanticism. It then organically evolves into a couple of chords that he freely plays over before he finally returns to the familiar melody, which resolves to an unexpected major chord. It’s stunningly beautiful.

“Round Midnight” is played as a ballad, then goes uptempo for a short yet intense improvisation before relaxing back to ballad-land. This is a great example of Beirach’s technical ability to pull colors out of the piano that few jazz pianists can. The tune ends with a characteristically ambiguous chord, the kind of voicing that has earned Beirach his nickname, The Code.

Beirach has been playing “Green Dolphin Street” for a very long time. When I compare this version to the solo version on the Live at Maybeck album, I am struck by how much it has grown in concept over the years. While it’s structurally similar with its optimistic pedal tone intro/outro, there’s a fresh immediacy and precision here, a melodic surety that never falters. Faster than the Maybeck version, it’s swinging and propulsive, until surprisingly, halfway through, it goes up a notch into double time, before falling back to the original groove. There’s an upbeat good-heartedness that pervades the entire performance.

The Bernstein ballad “Some Other Time,” another chestnut Beirach has been mining for decades, is lovingly stated here with a nod to classical romanticism, especially on the lush bridge. He then segues into the two chords that comprise Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece,” freely quoting from standards such as  “Maria,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “When I Fall in Love,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Lush Life,” and perhaps hinting at “If I Only Had a Heart. “Then, before diving back into the bridge, he re-harmonizes the opening section and extends the coda, throwing in a bit of  “It Might as Well Be Spring” and fading back into “Peace Piece.”

From the very outset, Beirach’s take on the Miles Davis classic “Solar” is relentlessly swinging. At one point his left hand swoops down into the lower registers and becomes a focus of  the melodic action. He proceeds to explosively dive into a wildly inventive, powerful two-handed rhythmic section. Beirach daringly drops out the left hand completely and lets the right hand drift off on its own, to near silence, before bringing both hands back in for the last statement of the tune. It’s a bravura performance.

The beautiful arrangement of “Spring Is Here” owes a great deal to the version on the album Elegy, Beirach’s brilliant homage to Bill Evans. However, this version is a medley that moves into a dynamic reading of “Maiden Voyage.” He amps it up into double-time with a Latin feel, before abruptly veering off into a slyly Monkish rendering of “Monk’s Dream.” Beirach cycles back to a return of  “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” At first haunted and dreamy, it soon ramps up into a full-tilt swing, ending on an introverted rubato coda.

On “Footprints,” Beirach dispenses with the usual 6/4 feel and instead plays it right out of the gate in a fast 4/4, the left hand anchoring the groove with a nod to the original bass line. It’s an uptempo burner with a rhythmic intensity that never lets up.

Beirach ends the set with perhaps his most well-known original piece, “Leaving.” He plays the tune through and then meanders into a free improvisation. Eventually he makes his way back to the familiar melody, which transitions into a sublimely beautiful extended improvisation before heading back to a rubato rendition of the source material. He then goes out with a very tender reading of his beloved “Sunday Song.” First recorded on the ECM album Hubris, this soft, understated version possesses the simplicity and elegance of a lullaby.

Musicians are storytellers. Richie Beirach has always intuitively understood the art of  good storytelling. He knows how to set the stage for the tale, employing the musical equivalent of  foreshadowing, when to deploy the element of surprise, how to build tensions, and when to release them in order to keep the listener engaged. On every tune one can hear the spontaneous, yet intentional shaping of story elements designed to sweep the listener into the musical narrative and keep them engaged.

Throughout this audiophile-quality recording, one can hear Beirach’s elegant, passionate, yet disciplined pianism. Over the course of his career, Richie Beirach has continually honed his concepts and his chops, clarifying and evolving his musical vision, always moving his art towards an ever more refined artistic sensibility and greater freedom of expression.

I enthusiastically give Leaving five well-deserved stars.

This entry was posted on Dienstag, 6. Juni 2023 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. You can leave a response here. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Great writing, Brian, like always. The cover looks and the title sounds in fact like a farewell of sorts. Hope not. Strange enough, last week I was listening to an old „crackling“ vinyl copy of the first ECM Lookout Farm album, with Young Richie being part of a strong collective with old pal Dave. One of the few albums still existing from my Würzburg student days. Still remember the little bookshop I bought it in. They also had a „raubkopie“ for me from Watzlawick‘s „Lösungen“.

  2. Lajla:

    Always a fine „Aha Erlebnis“ and a reminder of the old Kultbücher. Watzlawick war oft die Lösung. Thks Micha.

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Those were the years, Lajla, those were the 70‘s …. 😉

    Traveling backwards with Richard, here:

  4. Henning Bolte:

    Habe nie verstanden, warum W. in den 70ern Kult war. Es war wirklich alles von GREGORY BATESON abgekupfert, simplistisch. Naja, so funktioniert es eben immer wieder.

  5. Henning Bolte:

    Der absolute Bestseller der 70er war übrigens Mao Tse-Tung’s kleines ROTES BUCH. Die Auflage erreichte die Milliardengrenze und lag knapp hinter der christlichen Bibel.

  6. Henning Bolte:

    Until 2014 Beirach was professor for jazz piano in Leipzig. I guess together with Michael Woolly. Beirach seems to live in a quiet small village somewhere n Germany.

  7. Henning Bolte:

    Wollny natürlich

  8. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Ordered an „audiophile“ copy, Brian ..

    Bridging decades …

  9. Olaf Westfeld:

    Watzlawick hat sich glaube ich immer als Nachfolger Batesons bezeichnet, die beiden haben in Palo Alto eng zusammen gearbeitet. Ich glaube, eine Übertragung von Batesons Ideen auf die menschliche Kommunikation und die Therapie und damit auch eine Erweiterung trifft es doch – aber da sind andere hier sicher kompetenter als ich. Aber ja, diese Metaloge erhalten schon eine ganze Menge. Wenn ich es recht erinnere hat Bateson Humberto Maturama als seinen legitimen Nachfolger bezeichnet.

  10. Henning Bolte:

    danke Olaf für Ergänzung. Bateson war und ist Key. Was Praxis betrifft: die der AA (Anonyme Alkoholiker) wurde durch Bateson in Gang gebracht.

    Bateson hat über so viel mehr Spannendes geschrieben, u.a. über den balinesischen Hahnenkampf.

    Anregende Denke!

  11. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Brian, let‘s travel to the country
    Back to the Lookout Farm
    Where the four winds are blowing
    Forever every once in a while…

  12. Brian Whistler:

    Yes to traveling back to Lookout Farm. At least I will listen to the album.

  13. Michael Engelbrecht:

    I prefer the first one with the wood on the cover.

  14. Lajla:

    @ Henning. In den 70ern gab es einen Bedarf an solchen Büchern. Es wurde viel experimentiert, warum nicht mit einer Lösung zweiter Ordnung. Ich würde ein Kultbuch so definieren: es trifft die Zeitbedarfe, es wird viel gekauft, viel gelesen,viel diskutiert ggfs viel praktiziert.

  15. Michael Engelbrecht:

    En passant:
    Es war die Palo Alto Gruppe.
    Absolut essentiell.
    Jede gehörte dazu. Und lieferte.
    Ohne Watzlawick wäre alles zu lange elitär geblieben.
    Systemisch denken, Henning.
    Weder key noch king.
    Scenius statt genius.
    Maobibel, kranker Scheiss, kurze Mode.
    Balinesischer Hahnenkampf, jau 😂
    Die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Seins,
    Das war ein Kultbuch. Und
    Zen und die Kunst, ein Motorrad zu warten.
    Pirsig, grossartig.
    Kundera: die erotische Freundschaft. Coole Sache.
    Wham bam, thank you, mam.
    In other words: kudos for Paul W, Milan K, Robert P – and Richie B.

  16. Michael Engelbrecht:

    By the way, sorry, Brian, for the confusion with German comments blame it on me: in an early comment I remembered young me buying Lookout Farm there – and a copy of a Watzlawick book in a little store in Würzburg long ago… leading to some sideway talking here.

  17. Brian Whistler:

    I gathered that. It’s all good. Richie loved this review by the way and is directing it to his publicist and record label.

  18. Brian Whistler:

    Richie posted an excerpt from my review and linked it to the Manifonistas website:

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