Pandelis Karayorgis / Nate McBride / Curt Newton: Betwixt (2008)
Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton debuted as the Mi3 trio in 2005 with We Will Make A Home For You (Clean Feed), a riotous live recording that featured Karayorgis leading the trio on a vintage Fender Rhodes. Their studio follow up, Free Advice (Clean Feed, 2007) found Karayorgis back on home turf, playing acoustic piano. Their most definitive statement yet, Betwixt combines the electronic experimentation of their live debut with the sonic precision of the later studio session.
Dispensing with their ensemble name, the Boston-based, New England Conservatory grads continue down the adventurous path they blazed three years ago. Once again trafficking in a mix of thorny originals and under-sung covers, the trio shines new light on harmonically robust, but underexposed compositions by acknowledged masters, refracting them through a heavily amplified, kaleidoscopic lens.
Drawing from a rich well of classics, pieces by Duke Ellington ("Heaven"), Sun Ra ("Saturn") and Wayne Shorter ("Pinocchio") sit alongside obscure, yet striking tunes by Misha Mengelberg ("Hypochrismutreefuzz") and the trio's spiritual forefather, Hasaan Ibn Ali ("Off My Back Jack"). The inclusion of four covers by Thelonious Monk re-affirms Karayorgis reputation as a foremost interpreter of the master's idiosyncratic aesthetic.
A former student of Paul Bley and adherent of the elliptical approach of Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano, Karayorgis uses analog electronics to generate unorthodox alien timbres that transform pitch and tone in the same way his progenitors re-imagined conventional melody and harmony with asymmetrical structures. Karayorgis augments his Fender Rhodes with a Mutron auto-wah pedal, a distortion pedal and a ring modulator, a volatile combination that lends his instrument a mercurial temperament with limitless sonic potential. At his most deconstructive, he pitch bends craggy chromatic tones into other planes of there on Sun Ra's "Saturn."
McBride and Newton tackle elastic swing rhythms with an oblique approach, seamlessly incorporating rubato pulses, infectious ostinatos and intuitive call and response sections. They alternate between sublime coloration and spirited brio, allowing space for Karayorgis to unleash cadences that oscillate from gauzy whispers on the plaintive "Heaven" to psychedelic squalls of gritty feedback on the careening "Humph."
Free Advice was a welcome reminder of Karayorgis' abilities in a traditional acoustic setting. Betwixt reveals him as a sonic architect of the highest order, a visionary improviser whose enthusiasm for the possibilities of sound knows no limit. Together, Karayorgis, McBride and Newton offer a thrilling set guaranteed to turn heads.
Track Listing: Green Chimneys; Saturn; Break Even; Heaven; Hypochrismutreefuzz; Pinocchio; Brake's Sake; Light Blue; Curt's Escape; Off My Back Jack; Humph.
Personnel: Pandelis Karayorgis: Fender Rhodes; Nate McBride: bass; Curt Newton: drums.