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Jazz Review : The Maturing Style Of Billy Childs

February 11, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Billy Childs, the pianist well known for his work with Freddie Hubbard, played the first of a monthly series of engagements Sunday evening at Le Cafe, leading his own trio.

Now 28, Childs has made impressive headway both as a keyboard artist and composer. He is creating a style and sound of his own that cannot be classified, with elements of classical impressionism, touches of fusion, a nod to bebop in "All the Things You Are" and for the most part an agreeable unwillingness to be pigeonholed.

From the original composition that opened the set, throughout an hour of mainly his own works, it was evident that this is not just a group of musicians playing a casual date but an admirably organized unit. The rapport established by Childs--doubling on piano and DX7--with Jimmy Johnson on electric bass is exceptional. On his pensive and evocative "Totally Alone," Childs alternated between the two keyboards, sometimes playing a supportive role while Johnson outlined the melody.

Childs puts his obvious knowledge of jazz piano history to intelligent use. In his "Fleeting Instant" there were rhythmic reminders and harmonic overtones of Bud Powell. A more direct salute was his version of a little-known Bill Evans tune, "34 Skiddoo." Less successful was an unaccompanied tribute to Art Tatum. Recasting the Tatum treatment of "Yesterdays" in his own image, he displayed the requisite technique but worked too hard, capturing none of Tatum's incomparable delicacy.

Steve Houghton on drums rounded out the group efficiently except for an occasional tendency to flamboyance that drew the focus of attention away from Childs.

In general, Childs symbolizes a trend among contemporary pianists. He has heard many of his most-gifted predecessors but, beholden to none, is using his listening experience to develop what may well become a widely accepted individual personality.

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