Were it not for his innate modesty, pianist Michael Pellera would be much more acclaimed on the New Orleans music scene. Not that he’s doing badly. He has had a regular gig at the Windsor Court Hotel for many years, he leads the jazz department at NOCCA, and he regularly accompanies local stalwarts including Phillip Manuel and Leah Chase. He has the respect of all the jazzers in town.
Playin’ Piano is Pellera’s first solo piano recording that I know of. Not every good band pianist is capable of a solo piano recording; such an endeavor requires a better-than-average left hand to make up for the lack of bass and drum rhythm, to name one obstacle. Pellera is more than up to the task, as his striding left hand on the title cut and his funky New Orleans tresillo on “I Forgot” make clear. The less rhythmic numbers are emboldened by Pellera’s subtle and very particular sense of harmony.
The sturdy tunes here were written by the New York musician Jeffrey Meyer, who produced this album as well as two of the ’90s better local productions, Johnny Vidacovich’s Mystery Street and Banks Street. Like those earlier recordings, Playin’ Piano is a disc worth hearing, over and over.