An Absolutely Spectacular Jazz CD *****
"Celebration" was recorded at the Copenhagen JazzHouse on Alex Riel's 60th birthday [September 13, 2000]. In this performance, Riel has both given and received a spectacular present. Few live albums keep the listener rapt, feeling as if he were actually in the room. This is one of those, a five-star record.
Brad Mehldau has re-popularized jazz piano's romance with Impressionism, but Werner is a reminder that this link was never lost. His classical expositions -- from his cadenza on "Autumn Leaves" to his solo rendition of Bach's "Siciliana," an homage to Riel -- reveal a profound understanding of how to draw from that intellect and sensitivity within the spectrum of jazz. Yet Werner never languishes in introspection. Interaction is constant and provocative. Lundgaard follows in the steps of Paul Chambers and Milt Hinton, and has mastered the contradictory art of cementing motion; while Riel is the consummate bandleader, filling the gaps and complementing his musicians' every thought. "Celebration" is a program of oft-heard songs and exceptional performances. It echoes the message of Keith Jarrett's trio: Standards are relevant to today's music. To jazz musicians, they are both catalysts and aphrodisiacs, sparking conversation amongst beautiful melody and captivating harmonies. "Celebration" epitomizes this potential; and appropriately Riel, on his 60th birthday, is reminded that some things are timeless.
Stephen A. Smith (Boston, MA), Amazon.com
This buoyant trio disc was recorded on the occasion of Alex Riel's 60th birthday. Joined by pianist Kenny Werner and bassist Jesper Lundgaard, the veteran drummer leads off with Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," followed by a positively smoking "Bye Bye Blackbird." (Lundgaard's arco solo on the latter summons the spirit of Paul Chambers.) A stormy, mid-tempo "Autumn Leaves" culminates in a gorgeous piano cadenza that sets the stage for Horace Silver's glimmering ballad "Peace," which in turn segues directly into Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born." The trio gradually starts to cook again with "On Green Dolphin Street" and climaxes with a roaring "You and the Night and the Music." Werner concludes the program alone with his inventive, moving rendition of J.S. Bach's "Siciliana." There's an abundance of swing, simpatico, and sheer virtuosity to be heard. Frankly, these tracks testify to Werner's brilliance as effectively as anything he's recorded under his own name.
David R. Adler, All Music Guide
Danish drummer Alex Riel is well known for his mid-1960s' tenure as the house drummer at Club Monmartre in Copenhagen. He's been recording his own groups since 1965 and Celebration (Stunt) marks his 60th birthday and his seventh recording as a leader. For this musical party Riel's joined by pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Jesper Lundgaard and an appreciative audience at Copenhagen JazzHouse. While they are all effective, even compelling soloists, they also function cohesively as a trio. This becomes apparent on the opening selection as they play with different time signatures on "In Your Own Sweet Way." The pianist and bassist both take advantage of their solo opportunities: Lundgaard most impressively in his arco solo on "Bye Bye Blackbird" and his upper register, cellolike solo on the ballad "A Child Is Born," and Werner in his beautiful arrangement of Bach's beautiful "Siciliana." Everyone gets a full head of steam for the 10-minute romp through "You and the Night and the Music." But the most extraordinary moment occurs following the leader's dynamic drum solo on "Autumn Leaves," when the trio goes into a harmonic free-fall as if the tonal rug has been pulled out from under them. Risky stuff but very rewarding when it works. Experienced musicians like this could easily just coast playing standards. It's nice to hear this trio taking chances.
Larry Appelbaum, JazzTimes