Pandelis Karayorgis: System of 5 (2011)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
One of the most enduring qualities possessed by pianist Pandelis Karayorgis is his startling intellect, as well as the grace with which he announces his arrival. A truly gifted musician with a penchant for angularity, his playing is, nevertheless, beautifully logical, even when he is playing those darting arpeggios that a linear melody demands. However, every once in awhile, he abandons all logical lines to the melody of his complex work, and jumps in seemingly with a myriad of hands, playing slashing chords, fisting the keyboard in the manner in which Don Pullen might have done. At times like these, Karayorgis appears to relish the fact that his spontaneity not only takes over, crushing anticipated harmonic progression, but he also seems to relish the fact that he has achieved this with no safety net. There is also the sense that the pianist often crosses an imaginary Rubicon and, having found himself in uncharted territory, he lets his swinging sense of dissonant lyricism take over.
This kind of playing is prevalent throughout System of 5, an album that absolutely pulsates with extraordinary brilliance from end to end. The music here is created with sublime ingenuity and what is more, it is celebrated by every one of the 5 associated with Karayorgis' so-called system. And what might this seemingly simplistic system be? Far from rudimentary, it is an agglomeration of the individual genius of five musicians of considerable skill who desist from infusing the music with individualistic personality, preferring, instead, to treat each startling chart with equally startling interlocking of the sum of all the skills in the ensemble. This does not mean no soloing, but it is is not done in the conventional sense. For instance, when trombonist Jeff Galindo waxes eloquent with his growling and stuttering smears and human speech-like solo on "Seventh Wonder," the ensemble chugs alongside, seeming to egg him on, as if in conversation about his wild narrative. Similarly, bassist Jef Charland challenges Karayorgis elsewhere on the album, when he takes flight on a rhythmically propelled harmonic excursion.
The best example of this is on "Elastic," after the ensemble has run the ductile piece down in a couple of bars, releasing Karayorgis to take flight. There is also here a magnificent entwining of Karayorgis and Charland. So tight is this section of the chart, with the laconic jumping and walking of Charland, that it appears he is the glue that joins one musician to the next. And when the song leaps into overdrive at a doubled pace, it is the bassist who drives the trombone and the superb rhythms of drummer Luther Gray. Here is System of 5 at its finest. And just when it appears that "Elastic" has run its course and has nowhere else to go, the song dissolves into a swirl of brushed skins, maddening rolls of the piano and wild bleating of the saxophonist Matt Langley, before Karayorgis and Gray bring it all together until its memorable end.
Track Listing: Transit; Two-ophony; Elastic; Seventh Wonder; Curt's Escape; Stray Line; Due East; Tones Not Notes.
Personnel: Matt Langley: soprano and tenor saxophones; Jeff Galindo: trombone; Pandelis Karayorgis: piano; Jef Charland: double-bass; Luther Gray: drums.
Record Label: Hat Hut Records
Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde