Now, this is a story for the books! Boyd Lee Dunlop was 85 and in a nursing home when he recorded his first solo CD…and then promptly dropped dead of a heart attack, remained so for six full minutes, which usually means brain damage but not in this case, recovered, and left the nursing home to record this CD, his second. If that's not amazing enough, The Lake Reflections (named for the peaceful photos of Lake Erie by Brendon Bannon)—if you're prepared to digest a disc of very mannered outside piano solo improv—is going to baffle one and all with the fashion in which it succeeds, bringing to mind a strangely Romanto-Impressionistic blend of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, George Winston, even Ferrante & Teicher, as well as many others played in the foyer of a futuristic Ritz Carlton seeing Monsieur Hulot sitting down with Federico Fellini for a surreal evening's quirkily mannered concert.
Again, this cat is 85, but his touch is confident, his mind ceaselessly grasping at possibilities as they occur second by second, note by note, chord by chord. Boyd's time signatures splinter and fractionate, intonations leap up and then settle back down again, transmuting into something else with the same backbone but in different flesh. Each song's thematics dance before the listener, echoes from distant memories. In the 70s, I caught Earl Hines at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, Florida, and what he produced, warming up before the band came on to accompany was a lot like this. I glanced over at my buddy and asked "Is this guy setting the stage for Pink Floyd or warming up for the blues?" We both chuckled, but it was an arresting display of what an acclaimed talent of long standing in its seventh decade was capable of.
But there's more. Boyd Lee gave his brother Frankie drum lessons when they were young. Frankie went on to play with Monk, Ellington, Mingus, Rollins, Hampton, and others, appearing on over 100 records. Boyd, though, worked at steel mills and rail yards days while devoted to the piano nights, playing in and around Buffalo, NY, appearing on only one recorded gig ever, with Big Jay McNeeley. Writer Allen Farmelo in his liner notes calls this collection "a record of strange struggles to find peace, a weird and wonderful language, a challenging collage of ideas and impossible incongruities…something no style or convention can contain", and it's precisely all that, emphasis on the impossible incongruities, which marks Boyd's territory.
As is true of many creatives, Boyd has no idea where all this comes from: "To me," he says, "it's a gift from God. I know what the fuck I'm doing, though", and he certainly does, as no one could come up with the striking shades, deviations, and variations he conjures inside such seemingly conservative architectures unless he knew what he was on about, technically and intuitionally. Therefore, be warned, as The Lake Reflections first seems to be one thing, then another, then still another, but, when you're done listening, you'll be unable to put a finger confidently on any style or genre. It's jazz, but it rightly belongs to that time when the outfits brother Frankie was playing in and among—Monk, Mingus, the Duke—were doing regularly what few others still are able to manage at all.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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