FACE TO FACE Tom Bell (pn)  TOM BELL NO NUMBER (44:47)

BELL Bell’s Boogie. “F” Boogie. Sunday Morning Blues. Friday’s Groove CHOPIN Etudes: C, op. 10/1; c, op. 25/12. Ballade No. 4 LUX LEWIS (arr. Bell) Honky Tonk Train Blues BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 14 in c#: Finale P. SMITH Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie

Pianist Tom Bell’s album Face to Face juxtaposes boogie-woogie with mainstream repertoire works in an intriguing and effective manner. Beginning with the effusive Bell’s Boogie, Bell delivers a high-voltage account of this active piece (described in the publicity information as a “lightening fast stomp in C-Major”, and I see no reason to disagree), the move to Chopin’s Etude op. 10/1 is stark indeed. One has to assume that the names accorded to this and to op. 25/12 (“Waterfall” and “Ocean” respectively) are Bell’s own, perhaps in an attempt to revivify nicknames for Chopin’s Etudes. Nevertheless, Bell has the legerdemain to sparkle his way through the first, tracking its contours beautifully, before embarking on the sixteenth-note two hand arpeggios of the second. The recording itself softens the mid range a little, but this again is a well-contoured account.

Some of the writing of Bell’s own F Boogie that follows seems indebted to Chopin’s op. 25/12, and in its earlier stages there even seems to be the shadow of Chopin lingering; the faster section seems to be pure boogie woogie, however, before a small coda rounds off the piece. Bell seems at his happiest in his own compositions, almost transcending the studio conditions to attain something of the frisson of a live performance. His happy-go-lucky Sunday Morning Blues is a superb example of its kind before the light-toned Honky Tonk Train Blues (an arrangement by Bell of a piece by Meade Lux Lewis) sprinkles delight liberally. Bell’s rhythm is impeccable, allowing the music to drive itself inexorably onwards, a trait that bleeds into the next item, Bell’s Friday’s Groove, wherein the heat is perhaps turned down a little.

Chopin’s Fourth Ballade comes as balm to the soul, its gentle rhythms offering sweet respite. No nickname for this one, blissfully, but Bell does provide a beautifully nuanced reading, incredibly tender at heart; yet he has all the technical arsenal at his command for the final pages. Bell opts for the finale of the so-called “Moonlight” Sonata, finding nuance there as well as virtuoso swagger. Nice how the exuberant final piece, by Pinetop Smith, seems to emerge out of the depths of the Beethoven.

In short, an entertaining as well as intriguing selection delivered by a young man of much talent. The juxtaposition of styles will not be to everybody’s taste, true, but this is nevertheless a very satisfying experience. Available from www.tombellpiano.co.uk.

Colin Clarke