Lucid Culture


Resonant Nocturnes and Lively Solo Pieces from Matt Herskowitz

Pianist Matt Herskowitz’ new solo concert album, Upstairs, captures a November, 2011 gig at Montreal’s popular Upstairs Bar & Grill. It has a similar lyricism and gleam as Fred Hersch’s Alone at the Vanguard album from a couple of years ago, albeit with more of a third-stream flavor. It’s a mix of nocturnes and energetic, upbeat material imbued with equal parts classical precision and Herskowitz’ signature improvisational flair and humor.

Amid the crepuscular glimmer and the hjinks here are two showstoppers. The first is a meticulously nuanced solo piano arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s  Dzienkuye, a standout track from the late third stream icon’s Jazz Impressions of Eurasia album. Somberly neoromantic, Herskowitz takes it up on a lively and lushly dancing note before a rapt, starlit interlude and then a triumphant outro – it’s no surprise that Brubeck gave Herskowitz the thumbs-up for this.

The quiet, Satie-esque surrealism of Waltz in Moscow builds more eerily and bluesily, veering between those idioms with a vividly pervasive unease. By contrast, Michel Pettruciani’s Cantabile juxtaposes jaunty, often rapidfire ragtime with a middle interlude that more accurately reflects the title. Herskowitz’ dreamy take of  Schumann’s Traumerei reminds that he’s just as good at classical as jazz, while an instrumental version of Bella’s Lament – from the the play Bella, the Colour of Love, about Marc Chagall and his wife – reverts to a familiar trajectory from brooding neoromanticism toward a more upbeat narrative.

Herskowitz plays his famous Bach a la Jazz (from the film Les Triplettes de Belleville) like the lark it was to begin with, when he sent the playful knockoff of Bach’s C Minor Prelude from the Well-Tempered Klavier along with a lot more serious stuff to the film’s musical director. The album ends with rousing, impressively hard-hitting, expansive takes on Gershwin’s But Not for Me and I’ve Got Rhythm. It’s out now on Justin Time.

January 19, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Solo Brilliance from Kenny Werner

In the year of Vijay Iyer, with great double live albums by Fred Hersch and a rediscovery from Bill Evans, it wouldn’t be fair to let these last couple of months sneak off without counting Kenny Werner’s richly melodic live solo set Me Myself & I among the best piano jazz albums of recent months. Werner is a band guy – he likes to play off other people and vice versa. He also, by his own admission, doesn’t like to practice. But having been working up his chops for a separate project, he felt up to doing a solo gig at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival. Having been at the festival the night he was playing and…um…opting to see a different show, the reaction after hearing this was part regret for having missed such a magical night, part gratitude that Werner had the foresight to make a live record out of it.

Werner takes his time slipping into Round Midnight, bringing a glimmering neoromantic edge spiced by a handful of smartly placed bolero allusions, a little messing with the rhythm, spiraling down to a terse nocturne and then swinging it again. Balloons, a moody, modally fueled original edges in and out of waltz time, shifting from gleaming apprehension to a dark, flamenco-tinged High Romantic angst. By contrast, Werner briskly runs the changes throughout All the Things before shifting into expansive waves of tersely tuneful variations. He does the same a bit later on with Giant Steps, precise righthand chromatics anchored firmly in lefthand murk.

He plays Blue Is Green as a September song, with an understatedly towering intensity, finally hits the blues head-on and then lets it down gracefully. The real surprise here is fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell’s I Had a King, where Werner works his way from allusively moody, to incorporate hints of vaudeville and ragtime before ending with a creepy chromatic flourish. The last song on the album is Thad Jones’ pretty ballad A Child Is Born, juxtaposing minimalist opacity against an unexpectedly wary, almost rubato waltz, a couple of devious false endings and a long series of crescendos that are a clinic in how to develop a theme for maximum impact. For tracks that go on as long as these do – up to almost fifteen minutes – Werner never loses sight of the melody or the mood. The album’s out now from Justin Time. Memo to self: next time in Montreal…

November 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment