Walter Norris is the Art Tatum of the '90s.
Like the protean Tatum, Norris--who lives in Berlin and is in town for his annual visit--mixes a stunning technical prowess with a sublime sense of melody, resulting in performances that fill one with exhilaration and awe.
At the Jazz Bakery on Saturday, Norris worked unaccompanied, spinning out his magnificent musical tales to the beat of his own inner drummer. Employing a broad-based sensibility, which was built mainly around the magic of be-bop but drew heavily on 20th-Century classical music, Norris made quick, delightful shifts in style and mood.
A tune such as "Darn That Dream" might start rhapsodically, but soon enough there would be a rollicking, fast passage, the notes played as evenly as if they were a lovely strand of pearls.
"Falling in Love With Love" was Norris' tour de force. He interpreted Richard Rodgers' melody sprightfully, as if Debussy had written it, then with a flourish, as if he were Michael Feinstein, and finally more angularly, a la Bartok. A medley of "Tiger Rag" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere," played at a dazzling up tempo, closed the pianist's inspiring first set.
Norris concludes his Los Angeles stay with performances July 20 at the Grand Avenue Bar, July 23-24 at the Club Brasserie and July 25 at Catalina Bar & Grill.