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With the release of 88 Fingers, add the name Eyran Katsenelenbogen to the expanding roster of exciting pianists on the scene today. Katsenelenbogen draws from jazz, classical and the Great American Songbook for tunes that allow him to show off his amazing sound and bold-faced technique.
Throughout 88 Fingers, Katsenelenbogen plays with confidence and deep emotion. He is also a bit of a trickster, as he shows on the mischievous dance of "Lover," with its eyeblink homages to McCoy Tyner. His delightful stroll through "Mack the Knife" recalls Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk; one might well imagine Macheath spending his ill-gotten gain in a juke joint. He races breathlessly through "Groovin' High" without being reckless. Notes are compressed but not to the point where the song's vitality is lost.
With Katsenelenbogen's classical background, it's no surprise that he composes jazz arrangements built upon classical themes. Like a genetic engineer with a single strand of DNA, he uses a hint of the source material to write new tunes. "Improvisation on a Theme by Mussorgsky" is a hard-driving, no-nonsense foray that seizes the shoulders; the clever "Improvisation on a Waltz by Chopin" emphasizes a different kind of dance as Katsenelenbogen takes the venerable valse master out on the floor for a vibrant tango lesson. The pianist's style on ballads like "September Song," "Close Enough for Love" and "The Summer Knows" is an initial whisper that crescendos to controlled passion, his classical touches balanced with sentimentality and tenderness.
Katsenelenbogen plays with an ardor that almost borders on impatience, as though he wants more from the piano. Notes and chords are compacted as he tears away the seams of the tune in order to reach other interesting possibilities at the core. And in the skilled hands of this excellent pianist, those are endless.
Track Listing: Close Enough for Love (From 'Agatha'); Lover; Mack the Knife (From 'Three Penny Opera'); Groovin' High; September Song; Improvisation On Promenade Theme From Pictures At An Exhibition; Maura's Tune; Improvisation On Waltz No. 7 in C-sharp Minor, Op.64# 2; Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans; What'll I Do; Those Were the Days; Midnight With the Stars and You; Dream a Little Dream of Me; A Night in Tunisia; The Summer Knows (From 'Summer of '42'); Who Knows How Much.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.