Playing for a full house liberally sprinkled with admiring fellow pianists, Tommy Flanagan opened Friday (and closed Sunday) at the Loa.
At 59, Flanagan has reached a level of acceptance as the musicians' musician. His professorial mien belies his often bop-directed style, understated yet always authoritative.
He leans toward lesser-known songs mainly by the be-bop pioneers: J. J. Johnson, whose "Lament" was a high point; Tadd Dameron, represented by "Our Delight," and Tom McIntosh, whose "With Malice Toward None" gave Flanagan a chance to display his harmonic ideas as well as subtle dynamic shadings.
Sudden bursts of upsweeping chords sometimes lent an element of surprise, with a nimble left hand offering graceful filigree fills.
He is technically flawless but never humorless, as witness the sly quotes from "Salt Peanuts" in his version of an old Gillespie piece, the quasi-Cuban "Tin Tin Deo."
Flanagan's manner on-stage is reserved; his announcements are often barely audible, though he was heard paying tribute to Benny Carter, whose "When Lights Are Low" was the opening song.
Flanagan's bassist, George Mraz, is as remarkable a partner as he could hope for. Educated at the University of Prague, he has developed an astonishing command that turns every solo into a model of creative artistry. During one tune Flanagan suddenly began playing at twice the tempo, so that for Mraz it became a double-Czech stomp.
Mraz and the young drummer Kenny Washington function as a formidable team, working with Flanagan to present neatly crafted arrangements. In terms of the warmth and unity established by the three, it was, to quote a Thad Jones song played during this luminous hour, like old times.