Monday, December 16, 2013

Pandelis Karayorgis Trio, Cocoon

Of course one of the litmus tests for a modern jazz pianist is the trio configuration. It gives the player a group context that implies some connection with the tradition (at least in the instrumentation of piano, bass and drums) yet exposes his or her way with the pianoforte in a more radical fashion than if horns were involved.

The pianism of Pandelis Karayorgis first got my attention when I was writing for Cadence. Since then I have covered a fair number of his albums. I find him one of the more important and more interesting piano voices out there today.

He recently recorded a new trio outing which we finally get a chance to talk about, namely Cocoon (Driff 1302). I am happy to say that this is another very good one. It involves a three-way confluence between Karayorgis, Jef Charland on bass, and Luther Gray on drums. Karayorgis pens six of the numbers, Gray and Garland each contribute two. They are fine vehicles for the extensive improvisations that follow.

Luther Gray is a great drummer for this kind of date--because he can swing mightily, creatively accentuate any compositional aspects and come up with effective interplay with the other two whatever the context. Jef Charland can walk in ambiguous tonal territory with flair; he solos and interacts with taste and force.

But in many ways this is an ideal showcase for Pandelis and what he is up to. There is still the Monk-like foundation of his touch and an extension of the dissonant advanced comping and percussiveness to a point well on and self-developed. There is the presence of tradition in other ways too. Listen to "You Took My Coffee and Left," a blues, and you'll hear the old and the very new interacting--it's still very much a blues in structure but it takes it all further.

You can hear a bit of the Bley out-in-in harmonic openness, only it's fully Karayorgisized. There are well-placed out block chords, right-handed horn explorations and the split chord-horn left-right mix that you expect in the tradition, but the timing and the choice of notes is impeccable. His rich inventiveness comes through very well here--and that is something to ear-in on! Every solo is a lucid story that doesn't repeat as much as flows with thickly percussive rhythmic thrust and melodic-harmonic inspiration.

Well so this one is what anybody interested in piano trio freedom within the jazz tradition should hear. It is a major addition to the Karayorgis discography, which to me is a fine thing indeed.

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