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CD Review: Boyd Lee Dunlop “The Lake Reflections”

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You may remember the story from a few years ago about a great jazz pianist in his 80s who was discovered in a Buffalo nursing home. His name was Boyd Lee Dunlop and his story was a tough one. Despite being a formidable pianist and the brother of drummer Frankie Dunlop, who played with Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and others, he had recorded only one album in the late 1950s as a side-man with Big Jay McNeely.

Dunlop spent most of his life working in steel mills and rail yards and playing in small venues like Buffalo’s Colored Musician’s Club. And there he was, at the nursing home, sitting at an old, out of tune piano, and playing beautifully when photographer Brendan Bannon chanced upon him. It wasn’t long before Dunlop recorded his first album as a leader, the highly regarded trio CD, 2011's “Boyd’s Blues.” He was 85.

Two years later Dunlop is back with a moving solo work, “The Lake Reflections.” On this session, listeners will get more of a sense of what it must have been like to hear this almost forgotten treasure musing at the keyboard. On the album Dunlop plays a reflective, almost stream-of-consciousness set of mostly ballads. All of the songs are given new names but there are unmistakable standards - “Old Folks At Home,” “Angel Eyes” - surfacing now and then. Dunlop is a lyrical player with gorgeous tone and a dynamic approach to the keyboard. It’s sad to think that, if not for a chance encounter with a prominent photographer, his wonderful song may have remained unsung.

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