While he's never quite made it into the limelight, Hungarian-born pianist Laszlo Gardony has nevertheless managed to build a small but critically praised body of work since moving to the US in the mid-1980s. Far from revolutionary, Gardony has carved a solid niche for himself by combining elements of his home country's folk music with an accessible mainstream style. Natural Instinct is a logical progression for an artist who doesn't grow in leaps and bounds, but instead continues to solidify his approach and improve it with each new record.
The program consists of half a dozen originals, a handful of standards and one tune by his son Aaron. This piece, "Hidden Message, is the most explicitly modernistic track on the disc, despite the fact that it revolves around very familiar changes. Ever-shifting bar lines, in the hands of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yuron Israel, feel smooth and unforced, providing a different kind of challenge for the trio.
Gardony's writing covers considerable turf. The Afro-Cuban vibe of the title track contrasts with the Americana roots of "Revolution, which ultimately morphs into a two-chord gospel vamp that lets the trio groove a little harder. Still, while some might take this as an opportunity for unbridled virtuosity, Gardony never overstates his point. Instead, there's an elegant simplicity to his approach that masks a greater facility. "Me and My Echo is a brief three-chord song that, with its folkloric lack of affect, retains a gentle innocence. The spare melody of "Waking Dreams leads into a more insistent modal swing for Gardony's lithe solo.
Gardony's reworking of songs from the standards repertoire proves him to be imaginative, if not particularly dramatic. The opening vamp to a substantially reharmonized "Motherless Child alludes to McCoy Tyner's influence, but Gardony's touch remains light, even when Lockwood and Israel strive to push him harder. "Softly (As in a Morning Sunrise) is equally revamped; Lockwood states the theme before heading into Gardony's most focused solo of the set, building the dynamics but remaining graceful throughout.
Gardony doesn't give everything away when he plays. He's capable of more outré harmonic excursions, as his solo on "Softly proves. But his understated interaction with Lockwood and Israel, and his focus on the melodic essence of every song, show that Gardony is clearly out to make accessible music, even as it belies greater depth. Soothing more than it challenges, Natural Instinct may not rattle any cages, but it exposes the continuing evolution of Gardony's refined and cultured approach to the jazz mainstream.
Personnel: Laszlo Gardony: piano; John Lockwood: bass; Yoron Israel: drums.