Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Darkly Translucent Album and a NY Piano Festival Appearance From Laszlo Gardony

That recently revived January jazz spinoff of the annual booking agents’ convention has finally reached the point where it has priced and marginalized itself off this blog’s radar. Meanwhile, there have been some interesting alternatives popping up around town lately. One is the NY Jazz Piano Festival, which distinguishes itself by programming mostly solo performances by artists who excel in that setting. It’s on the pricy side – $30 per set – although if you want to make a daylong or even a weekend-plus marathon out of it, you have that option. The lineup on Jan 15 is especially choice, beginning at noon with the Eastern European-inspired and often haunting Laszlo Gardony. Orrin Evans – who despite the many demands on his time is fantastic solo – plays at 3, with symphonic latin jazz player Dayramir Gonzalez at 4:30, world-class improviser Jean-Michel Pilc at 6, and the reliably lyrical and mercurial Marc Cary at 8. It’s all happening at Klavierhaus, a piano showroom frequently utilized for classical music and recently relocated to 790 11th Ave. at 54th St.

Gardony’s latest album is Close Connection, a trio recording with fellow Bostonians John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums, streaming at Bandcamp. Gardony’s melodies are terse and translucent: some of these songs without words remind of early Soft Machine or 70s Morricone film scores, with distant echoes of Bartok’s piano miniatures. The trio open with Irrepressible, built around a catchy, punchy riff-rock theme spiced with incisive blues but also chromatics and uneasy close harmonies that reflect Gardony’s Hungarian heritage.

Bass and drums begin Strong Minds with a simple trip-hop rhythm, then Lockwood builds a muted suspense beneath Gardony’s shifts between emphatic riffage, ripples and occasional phantasmagoria. Gardony peruses the upper registers gently as Sweet Thoughts gets underway, then Israel rises above a piano loop with his misty cymbals and loose-limbed accents.

The group lock in on an insistent vamp in Cedar Tree Dance, Gardony punching into the blues, then backing away for a moonlight half-mile as Lockwood tiptoes and Israel rustles into kicking off a darker dervish dance on the way out. Gardony’s hard-hitting precision remains, aptly, in All That Remains, a moody tone poem of sorts, Lockwood again playing good cop to Gardony’s stern attack.

.Times of Discord – now there’s a theme for 2023, huh? – has a similar, gritty forward drive, Israel taking over the propulsion as Gardony energetically works the brooding passing tones. Then Israel plays kalimba behind Gardony’s melodica in Savanna Sunrise, a goofy, calypso-tinged piece. They reprise it a little later as a subtly gospel-tinged piano number.

Walking in Silence is Gardony at his best, a wintry, somber tune, Lockwood and Israel filling in the edges gingerly over alternately spare and driving close-harmonied piano. Gardony parses some fond, familiar motives with hints of both gospel and calypso in Hopeful Vision, the album’s lone solo tune.

Gardony scampers into tensely syncopated, darkly carnivalesque territory in the aptly titled Night Run: it’s the album’s hardest-charging song. The trio conclude with Cold Earth, a sepulchral tableau where Israel’s flitting, poltergeist flickers mingle with Lockwood’s melancholy bowing and the bandleader’s grim pedalpoint. Fans of melodic European players like Romain Collin and riff-driven improvisers like Rachel Z will love this record.

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January 11, 2023 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laszlo Gardony Keeps the Tunes Front and Center

Dave Brubeck is a fan of Laszlo Gardony, which makes sense: Gardony plays lyrical, often classically-tinged piano jazz. In a way, his new album Signature Time (tempo-wise, this Sunnyside release is surprisingly straight-ahead) is something of the reverse image of Monty Alexander’s new live one just reviewed here. Where Alexander goes for gusto, Gardony goes for reserve, with an often vividly pensive edge. Like Alexander’s work (especially three tracks: the opening piece which begins with a samba flavor and quickly goes in a darker direction; the tersely catchy song without words Under the Sky; and the hypnotically pulsing On African Land) – it’s very accessible, but also intelligent. Most of the songs here are done as a trio with John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel playing it very low-key on drums, with Stan Strickland guesting on tenor sax on two tracks. Besides just consistently good tunesmithing, what makes this album worth a listen? Consistency of vision: everybody’s on the same page here, all the way through, Gardony and occasionally Lockwood setting the mood and the others maintaining it.

The covers are extremely inventive. Lady Madonna is rendered practically unrecognizable – imagine what Ray Charles did with it and then stretch that out even further, insistent but also precise, Lockwood’s staccato pulse paralleling Gardony’s meticulousness. Lullaby of Birdland is given a distantly tango-flavored vibe, swaying on Lockwood’s staccato hook, with a long, prowling Gardony solo. And Billy Strayhorn’s Johnny Come Lately swings brightly but warily, Strickland following potently in the same vein. There’s also the self-explanatory, high-spirited Bourbon Street Boogie with Strickland in terse, triumphant mode.

There are also a couple of duds here. One is a new-agey vamp with vocalese that adds absolutely nothing; the other is a cover of Eleanor Rigby. Some songs pack such a wallop that trying to reinvent them in a style that carries less of a wallop is a mistake. That one might work as heavy metal, maybe, but even Lockwood’s cleverly creepy chromatics aren’t enough to put Gardony’s attempt over the top. Hubris can be fun…and it can also be a bitch.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Massimo Sammi – First Day

Truth in advertising: the retro 70s-style cover of Massimo Sammi‘s debut album pictures the jazz guitarist staring out somewhat warily beneath a bare tree in what looks like late autumn or early winter. That’s a considerably evocative image for this bracing, dark yet ultimately triumphant collection of narrative jazz pieces. A cynic might say that Sammi saw A Beautiful Mind and decided he should write an album based on the movie – obviously, he was inspired by the struggles and in particular the theories of John Nash, especially Nash’s belief in the power of intuition. Beyond that, it’s not known what else if anything Sammi might have in common with the mathematician, but there’s considerable tension, struggle and even a slightly understated horror that comes through vividly in the seven utterly original compositions here. As one would think, the overall feel here is quite cinematic. The band is first-rate: Boston luminaries John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums lock in on a fluid groove for Sammi and George Garzone’s tenor and soprano sax. Garzone is a particularly good choice since he can evoke literally any mood he wants and doesn’t shy away from what a lesser musician might find profoundly disturbing. Dominique Eade also adds heartfelt, nuanced vocalese to a couple of tracks.

Over the opening track’s slinky, modified bossa beat, Sammi offers hints of what’s to come: the tune is catchy yet has a troubled edge. Garzone doesn’t waste any time introducing just a hint of madness on the second cut, Encryption, Sammi taking a long, ruminative solo with an outro that grows more insistent. Things go completely over the edge on the third track, Garzone’s sax fluttering with an anxiety that grows quickly to a muted terror echoed starkly by Lockwood’s bass. This segues into track four, Sammi’s guitar taking the angst-ridden tone up yet another notch, rhythm section rumbling ominously beneath, all the way through to a horror-movie crescendo where Garzone’s tenor bleats, gasps and finally gives up completely. The effect is viscerally chilling.

But there’s a happy ending. Eade’s consoling voice signals in a gentle waltz and an equally warm, reassuring Sammi solo on track five, Icecream and Tears, Please, followed by the catchy, even blithe Hallways, Garzone tossing off a second clever, playful Trane quote (no spoilers here – get the cd and hear it for yourself). The all-too-brief concluding chorale has Eade soaring over Sammi’s triumphantly Spanish-inflected fingerwork. It’s kind of scary and it’s awfully good. Keep an eye on this guy, he’s really got a feel for a remarkably wide expanse of emotions and ideas.


November 4, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment