Blood Ballad

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Leo
PERFORMER: Pandelis Karayorgis Trio: Pandelis Karayorgis (p), Nate McBride (b), Randy Peterson (d)
CATALOGUE NO: CD LR 325

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Boston-based Pandelis Karayorgis is one of a select handful of contemporary jazz pianists – Marilyn Crispell, Myra Melford, Matthew Shipp, Howard Riley among them – who, while variously and avowedly indebted to past masters such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano, are taking the jazz-piano tradition in new and delightfully unexpected directions.

Karayorgis’s position in such a tradition should not need stressing – previous albums have, after all, included material by Duke Ellington, and Blood Ballad itself contains a compositional tribute to Billy Strayhorn in its title-track.

But in the current jazz climate, increasingly dominated by the Wynton Marsalis/Stanley Crouch line popularised by film-maker Ken Burns, tracing such links provides a much-needed corrective to the somewhat restrictive neo-classicism they have done so much to promote in recent years.

For the virtues immediately discernible in Karayorgis’s music – the subtlety and hair-trigger spontaneity of the musicians’ interaction, the extraordinary improvisational fecundity that permeates both his slow-burning ballads and his boppish up-tempo originals, not to mention his clear stylistic nods to past masters – have been jazz’s defining qualities since Louis Armstrong joined King Oliver.

The superficial impression that Karayorgis’s music has a great deal more in common with that of ‘avant-garde’ figures – say, Cecil Taylor or Misha Mengelberg – than with the work of more ‘mainstream’ players can be easily dispelled by paying close attention to the delicate unfolding of his improvisational ideas in the appropriately titled ‘Coming Out of Nothing’, or to the trio’s fierce yet tightly controlled interplay on John Coltrane’s ‘One Up, One Down’. Such extemporisation, creating the sound of surprise, has always been jazz’s lifeblood.

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This trio, flawlessly – and at times explosively – propelled by McBride and Peterson, but spearheaded by one of the most entertainingly adventurous yet thoughtful pianists operating today, should be much more widely known. Chris Parker