You would not be faulted for raising an eyebrow at the appearance of a Burton Greene solo record. It is not without precedent, of course, for 1998’s Shades of Greene
(Cadence Jazz) and It’s All One
(Horo, 1975) set a worthy course. Nevertheless, Greene’s music has been fruitfully explored in ensemble recordings, from the classic open-communications music of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble (featuring Alan Silva and Jon Winter) and his great quintet with master saxophonists Marion Brown and the criminally underrecorded Frank Smith, to a series of colorful duets with bassists Silva, Maarten Altena, and recently, Mark Dresser. Naturally, the solo artist’s medium is reflection rather than reaction, but on this recent live set, the pianistic architecture that inspired many of his cohorts is here naked for our approval.
Greene’s oeuvre is one presenting an artist never content to rest on his laurels; at times embracing free improvisation, Gypsy folk music, Indian ragas, and klezmer (and sometimes within the course of a solo!), it comes as no surprise that the selections on this recording run the gamut and are as slippery as a greased piano key. The Satie-esque “Calistrophy” sets the ball rolling with a rhythmically insistent yet pointillistic drive, and continues through “In the Footsteps of the Bratslav,” which begins as a romantic tone poem until Greene’s penchant for Satie’s dadaism and Morton Feldman take over again, resulting in a surrealistic and playful solo as dissociated from the thematic material as one could possibly hope for.
It is, in fact, in these rather free solo flights that one somewhat misses the interplay of, say, his old cohorts Shelly Rusten and Steve Tintweiss (those bells could almost be augmented by high bass harmonics). Unlike most solo piano sets (and I’m thinking of people like Jaki Byard and Dave Burrell especially), Greene is not so much a left-hand player, and the influence of ragtime and its extended bass roiling have little to do with the fleet right hand brushstrokes that are presented here. This is not to say that he’s not a highly rhythmic player (quite the contrary: see “Gnat Dance”), but he builds his rhythms from the extension of events, the distance between firings rather than an easily countable pulse.
Greene has also embraced his East European roots in his compositions (especially in evidence here); the rhythmically repetitious, mildly dissonant thematic material that finds commonality in both Monk and Bartók makes up a good portion of his book.
Romanticism, surrealism, and freedom: all are fully in effect on this, Burton Greene’s most recent offering of solo piano. For one whose familiarity is steeped in the pianist’s open-communication first, there were only a few moments where a nudge from a drummer would have been welcome. The thematic material is strong, and the recording quality superb—one can really hear the piano. Suffice it to say that the progression from free music to Greene music is so logically perfect that I don’t even miss the garbage-pail lid on the piano strings.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .