Solo Piano: Greg Burk, Dave Frank, Peter Madsen, Joel Futterman
Any one of the titles of the individual albums here would be perfect for summarizing this collection of state-of-the-art developments in modern jazz piano. These solo odysseys document journeys inside and out and artfully blend mastery of technique with distinct voices and individual approaches.
Greg Burk is an educator and has studied with Yusef Lateef, Paul Bley and Danilo Perez. He has performed with Steve Swallow and Jerry Bergonzi, to name but two and The Way In reflects the diversity that those names suggest. He's not above using what he calls "non-standard sound production when it adds appropriate color to his improvisational meditations. In fact, The Way In opens with "Paper Piano which utilizes a buzz effect, in which the piano vibrations are 'muddied'. And on another track, a ring of keys is used to heighten metallic resonances.
This is truly imaginative keyboard exploration, powerful and probing yet rich and inviting as well. Several of the tunes were freely improvised - all under the heading "Ballads . These are journeys in which colors and textures open out organically and tell stories that are larger in scope than the collections of notes. And Burk has also taken a tune he composed years ago - "Serenity's Distant Dawn - and rendered it in its tender and expressive original form.
Dave Frank is a busily engaged pianist and educator. Ballads & Burners is a title that suggests an old collection of standards but is, rather, a blend of the two major modes in which Frank likes to compose and play - pensive ballads and kick-loose up-tempo romps. He is strongly communicative and a fine storyteller at any speed. He begins by defining his terms in action - doing what he calls a "go-for-broke improvisation on the chord changes for Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays . The keyboard command and technique are certainly wowing but most impressive is the powerful evocation, even in this crazy approach, of the classic tune. And then rather seamlessly, the pianist puts on the brakes with a lovely reflection on Rousseau's painting "The Sleeping Gypsy , the first of a series of five works inspired by visual art.
There's nothing pedantic about these tone poems - it's portrait painting of a high order, indeed. Frank wails through a piece about the machines that built America and then another about the rapid pace of information in today's world before he slows down to show an impression of Salvador Dali in a dreamy, other-world. And the astute listener can also dig how a smart pianist can burn atonally and depict musically something akin to Jackson Pollock's quick paint- flinging.
Peter Madsen's approach to modern jazz piano on Prevue of Tomorrow is to go back to earlier times and play music whose work was new and visionary at the time and remains so. These explorers include Mal Waldron, Andrew Hill, Herbie Nichols, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Sun Ra, Lennie Tristano, Richard Twardzik and Hasaan. Madsen has learned from these modern masters - not in a slavishly imitative way but with intelligence and a sense of inventive transformation. So while these tunes are 'covers', they all feel like Madsen creations because of how he's been able to use his own voice to sing them anew. Waldron's "Boo kicks off the proceedings and we might well be hearing a new music piano recital. There is a multitude of colors revealed in this interpretation - from its attention-grabbing opening, through its low-note pulsations and in its overall celebration of texture. Later, Madsen is able to put a frame around "Giant Steps ' chord movements as reflected in Herbie Nichols' earlier and groundbreaking "The Third World .
Madsen has been able to find what is original and revelatory in earlier new players. In an uncontradictory way, they're a kind of "best of past new music! In "A Portrait of the Living Sky Madsen holds the musical world of Sun Ra up to new light. This is the second movement of a suite, but it stands on its own as a case-study of musical imagery in a full - and different, thanks to Madsen - sense of possibilities. And then there's the musical politics of Randy Weston, whose sensibilities Madsen refracts in a new sound poem dedicated to the piano sound and ethos that the older master has presented so often to us. And in a performance of pure, delicate magic, Madsen plays both the tune and the improvisation on Abrams' "The Bird Song on the strings of the piano. Madsen, like these players he admires, is deeply open to all of music and how it's developed.
The improvisations that go farthest afield, yet stay focused and centered in their development, come in Joel Futterman's Possibilities. This nearly 80-minute "free improvisation - divided into 7 parts - emerges as an organic coherent whole. The piano is a sound environment from which grow frameworks for sonic and growth potential. These are spontaneously created and new themes find their way out into the open - often from chaos. It's universes being brought into being from what has literally come before.
Prepared to be dazzled in the 21-minute take on the blues - Part 3 - transformed into what feels like an Ellington sound poem. Then, through ear-wrenching sound explosions, breathtaking runs, monolithic clusters and, yes, a kaleidoscopic sense of fun and adventure, Futterman finds his way back to a world that sort of sounds like where it started, but is, in fact, utterly changed. Part 4 finds the artist inside and outside the piano, the two places in essence blending to make yet another way to look at the black and white keys. You never quite know where you're headed but by the end you most certainly know you've been somewhere that you've not been before.
Tracks and Personnel
The Way In
Tracks: Paper Piano; Ballad for Gold; Look to the Asteroid; Ballad for Sand; Walking the Earth; Wu-Wei Out; Serenity's Distant Dawn; Ballad for Water; What is This Key In?; Big Bird.
Personnel: Greg Burk: piano.
Ballads & Burners
Tracks: Spirit of the Burn; Rousseau's World; The Mechanization of America; Information Highway; Salvador Dali in a State of Grace; Jackson Pollock at Work; Shades of Renoir; Afternoon in Nahant; Like People in Heat; Portrait of Manet; Allied Forces; It's Alright with Me.
Personnel: Dave Frank: piano.
Prevue of Tomorrow
Tracks: Boo; Subterfuge; Three-Four vs. Six-Eight Four Ways; The Bird Song; The Third World; Rick Kick Show; A Portrait of the Living Sky; Blues for Africa; The Girl from Greenland; Leave me.
Personnel: Peter Madsen: piano.
Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7
Personnel: Joel Futterman: piano.