Roy Meriwether, as saxophonist Ritchie Cole astutely observed, is one of the most underrated pianists on the scene today. Meriwether has attracted a cult following through the years, and wherever and whenever he appears, more are added to the fold. This album clearly demonstrates why this is so. It has the added distinction of being recorded before a live audience. The result is nothing short of spectacular.
The music has a spontaneity, intimacy and immediacy of involvement that is impossible to achieve in a recording studio. One need only listen to a single track of this album to recognize that a special chemistry exists between Meriwether and his most appreciative audience.
Seven Steps to Heaven, a Miles Davis favorite, is performed at a tempo that many pianists wouldn’t attempt. Meriwether has always been blessed with an abundance of technique, and on this selection he gets an opportunity to display it. The music takes many surprising turns, not the least of which is the soulful vamp toward the end of this extended romp.
Summertime, the Gershwin classic, is performed at a relaxed tempo, in a beautiful stylized arrangement by Meriwether and company. His gospel roots are very much in evidence. Roy’s father and sister are both ordained ministers, and Roy spent his apprenticeship years absorbing much of this tradition in the Dayton, Ohio area. The composition sizzles throughout as Meriwether takes it through every rhythmic change imaginable, exploring the harmonic and linear possibilities of this classic tune. Gershwin has never been treated better!
In Lionel Burt’s Where is Love we find Roy at his lyrical best. Feeling, honesty of conviction, and soul have always been very important ingredients in the Meriwether style, and this composition allows him to display all of these traits. Oscar Peterson has said that everyone should play the way they feel. Meriwether is the personification of that statement. The listener is transported with him as he creates one cascading chorus after another, always building with great dramatic intensity.
Sexual Healing a Marvin Gaye composition, is a good indication of how Meriwether can shape a viable commercial tune into a personal statement. Once again relying heavily on his early gospel training, Meriwether’s rhythmic changes and abrupt shifts in mood are nothing short of dynamic and can tend to be quite infectious.
Cannonball Adderly, whenever auditioning a new number for his quintet, would always have him play the blues. That’s what told him everything he wanted to know about the musician. “The blues don’t lie.” It therefore seems appropriate that Roy would finish his first set playing After Hours, a traditional knock-em-down, drag-em-out blues, with humorous quotes from other well known tunes along the way. Encouraged by the very vocal and demonstrative audience who obviously does not see a necessity for restraint when it comes to the blues, Meriwether leads them on a “soulful strut” that builds to a climactic resolution.
With each new musical venture, Meriwether continues to set a high standard of excellence to which other artists can only aspire. The second set opens with Lionel Ritchie’s Lady and Meriwether once again shows us what he can do with top-40 material transforming it into the jazz idiom-shifting gears from a brief lyrical statement, to an intense and infectious vamp for his awesome improvisational skills.
In Ray Charles’ Sweet Sixteen Bars and Michael McDonalds’ Takin’ It To The Streets, we find Meriwether at his playful best, once again exploring the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of the compositions and pushing them to the limit. One thing that separates Meriwether from many of his contemporaries is that pianistically he has a very distinctive “sound.” Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and certainly Mr. Meriwether are among the few who have their own musical signature. Just as Beethoven and Mozart had a unique way of voicing for the orchestra to produce their own “sound,” so does Meriwether. In the traditional St. James Infirmary, Meriwether demonstrates his ability to really “swing,” achieving a relaxed groove that just makes you want to get up and move. In this composition, Meriwether has so much respect for the melody that he doesn’t stray too far from its musical borders. The same may be said for Endless Love, which gets a very understated interpretation. Sometimes, less is truly more. It once again demonstrates Meriwether’s sensitivity for the material he selects to perform.