154

A Queue of Contemporary Keyboardists: Ran Blake, Howard Riley, Sren Kjrgaard and Sylvie Courvoisier

Tom Greenland By

Sign in to view read count








Ran Blake
The Complete All That Is Tied Sessions
Tompkins Square-emusic.com
2007


Howard Riley
Short Stories (Volume II)
SLAM
2007


Søren Kjærgaard
Keys
ILK Music
2006


Sylvie Courvoisier
Signs & Epigrams
Tzadik
2007





The acoustic keyboard has been around for centuries, its myriad musical possibilities explored and re-explored by a host of skillful and creative musicians, exploiting the instrument's extended tessitura and broad capacity for harmony and counterpoint to its seeming fullest. How refreshing, then, that a constantly reforming queue of improvisers is lined up and stepping forward to suggest new avenues of expression, new artistic possibilities. What better showcase for these than a solo piano album? Ran Blake, Sylvie Courvoisier, Søren Kjærgaard, and Howard Riley have all recently released unique and idiosyncratic works that convincingly suggest that the piano's possibilities are far from exhausted.

While all of these artists could huddle under the umbrella category of 'avant-garde', a leaky term covering 'new' improvisational music, they all tip their berets in one way or another to the legacy of jazz. Ran Blake, for example, on The Complete All That Is Tied Sessions, exposes the Americana roots of gospel chording and cadences, the hammered and 'bent' notes of the blues, and the whorehouse ragtime of the Crescent City, all felt or implied without overt imitation. Deeper roots may be discerned in his use of Western European classical composers, notably the piano-friendly texturing of Frédéric Chopin and the modern dynamism of the Third Streamers. Howard Riley's Short Stories (Volume II) reveals the influences of walking bass lines, bop chord voicings and swing, but leans more to the progressive lyricism of Keith Jarrett, the angular phrasing of Thelonious Monk ("Roots nods to Monk's "Misterioso ) and the muscular bombast of Cecil Taylor. Søren Kjærgaard brings a European (Danish) sensibility to the music, though he certainly understands the blues, as on Keys' "Willow Weep for Me , where he makes the cembalo (a woody-toned harpsichord) sound like a National Steel resonator guitar. His reinterpretations of well-known standards such as "Night & Day , "Yesterdays and "Body & Soul allow attentive listeners to discern the method beneath his mania; on the latter tune—akin to the narrative structure of Toni Morrison's Beloved or William Faulkner's The Sound & the Fury—his musical plot, at first opaque, is gradually unveiled. Of the four keyboardists, Sylvie Courvoisier is perhaps the least obviously indebted to the straight-ahead school; on Signs and Epigrams, her employment of chromatic and symmetric 'scales' and cliché-free thematic development is patently autonomous; her 'roots' stem rather from the pure-sound aesthetics of ecstatic jazz.

Each of these artists, in their own ways and means, unfold the envelope in search of the novel; all share an interest in expanding the timbral palate of the piano, whether through layered textures or extended techniques. Blake accomplishes the former through fairly conservative use of unorthodox articulations and unexpected juxtapositions, relying on an organic sense of dramatic tension to forward his narratives. Riley reaches into the sound-box to create impromptu, 'unprepared' piano pitches, as on "Concision and "Passing ; elsewhere, his incessant ideations, featuring audaciously independent right- and left-hand 'personalities', coalesce in a textural gestalt of high density and intensity. On the first disc of Keys, Kjærgaard confines himself to the keyboard, at times waxing rhapsodic in unpredictable serpentine shapes, at others spinning Zen tone-webs of surprising span, as on "Izerka and "Bye Lulla ; on the second disc he investigates the unusual hues of the celeste, cembalo, glockenspiel and pump organ—to fresh effect. Courvoisier heads straight for the naked strings, firing off "Ricochet with damped, impressionistic bass notes, then proceeding through a variety of hands-on procedures—harmonics, behind-the-nut plucking, string-hammering, scratching and bending—to enhance and augment her concepts. Her pieces, cohesively structured through evolving motifs, are atmospheric and patently open-ended, programmatic without losing a sense of wholistic growth and discovery.

These contemporary keyboardists are stepping up and out, finding fountains of youth in an age-old instrument.


Tracks and Personnel

The Complete All That Is Tied Sessions

Tracks: All That Is Tied (alternate take); Arline; Field Cry (alternate take); Field Cry (alternate take); Indian Winter; Latter Rain Christian Fellowship (alternate take); Sister Tee; Sontagism (alternate take); Spiral Staircase; Straight Ahead; Touch of Evil; Turning Point; Vanguard; Wende (alternate take).

Personnel: Ran Blake: piano.

Short Stories (Volume II)

Tracks: Disc 1: Geocentric One; Up & Downs; With Ease; The Gap; Think Again; Geocentric Two; Palmate; Walkabout; Reconciliation; Branch Lines; Head Games; Splits; Concision; Shenanigans; Maybe.

Disc 2: Another Time; No Regrets; Ascending; Still Standing; Threesome; Of the Moment; Reflective Tendencies; Inevitably; Sentiments; Open Question; Hidden Knowledge; Meeting; Hear Me Out; Passing; Roots.

Personnel: Howard Riley: piano.

Keys

Tracks: Disc 1: Night & Day; Yesterdays; Stella; Mr. Tutu's Dance Cycle; Ballad for Leo; Now Piece #1; Body & Soul; Lovething; Now Piece #2; Lines ; Space; What's New; Prelude; Izerka; Bye Lulla.

Disc 2: I Remember You; Willow Weep for Me; BrotherSister; Mojave Rattlesnake; Kubrick; Lemmy Caution; Single Petal of a Rose.

Personnel: Søren Kjærgaard: piano, celeste, cembalo, glockenspiel, pump organ.

Signs & Epigrams

Tracks: Ricochet; Des Signes et des Songes; Meccania; Epigram 1; Epigram 2; Epigram 3; Confins de Lueurs; Chick; Mis en Pièces; Soliloquy.

Personnel: Sylvie Courvoisier: piano.


Shop

More Articles

Read Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017
Read New, Notable and Nearly Missed Multiple Reviews New, Notable and Nearly Missed
by Phil Barnes
Published: January 25, 2017
Read Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas
by Doug Collette
Published: January 14, 2017
Read Weekertoft Hits Its Stride… Multiple Reviews Weekertoft Hits Its Stride…
by John Eyles
Published: January 7, 2017
Read Ivo Perelman: The Art of the Improv Trio Multiple Reviews Ivo Perelman: The Art of the Improv Trio
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 4, 2017
Read 2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon Multiple Reviews 2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Three saxophonists very different paths since "Propagations"" Multiple Reviews Three saxophonists very different paths since "Propagations"
by John Eyles
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago" Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon" Multiple Reviews 2016: An Ivo Perelman Marathon
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Two  Scandinavian Jazz Orchestras" Multiple Reviews Two Scandinavian Jazz Orchestras
by John Eyles
Published: May 23, 2016
Read "Two  contrasting releases from Stefan Thut" Multiple Reviews Two contrasting releases from Stefan Thut
by John Eyles
Published: March 23, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!