Stuart Broomer's ponderous liner notes to Russ Lossing's latest release correctly point out that the track sequencing suggests a "side one" and "side two," as would an old vinyl album ("the LP of tradition," as Broomer says). The first side is given over to a suite of freely improvised music with echoes (probably unwitting) of various moments in 20th Century classical piano. Side two replaces these with more deliberate jazz echoes as Lossing takes on an idiosyncratic set of standards and near-standards.
Lossing has a long list of credits, including most recently the acclaimed trio date As It Grows
(Hat Hut, 2004) with Ed Schuller and Paul Motian, but All Things Arise
is his first solo piano recording. Judging from the two opening segments of the side one suite, it sounds like he's been holding himself back up until now: in an unflagging avalanche of ideas, uncompromisingly avoiding rote or formulaic elements, "All Things Arise" and "Interdependence" penalize attention deficit on the part of listeners. Having gotten that out of his system, the latter two movements are gentler (but no less demanding of the listener's attention).
Side two, though ostensibly familiar ground for jazz fans, is only marginally less rigorous. Contrast Lossing's approach to standards with Marilyn Crispell's, for example. In her renditions of "Ruby, My Dear" and "When I Fall In Love" on her excellent Live in San Francisco
(Music & Arts, 1990), the familiar themes only begin to crystallize out of the musical shards at the end of the performances, rather like an echo played backwards. Lossing instead seems to interleave elements of the compositions throughout his performance of what are essentially his own improvised musical structures.
Lossing's own brief notes on his treatment of the tunes are helpful, if enigmatic. For example, he tells us that he "improvised the harmony" of Ornette Coleman's "Kathelin Grey," thereby removing, for me, the original's sweetness. But that's okay, given that he injects a certain sweetness into Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song," which is "really a blues of sorts," after all.
Like Assif Tsahar and Tatsuya Nakatani's Solitude
(Hopscotch, 2006), another recent uncompromising work of free improvisation, All Things Arise
ends with a Duke Ellington masterpiece. In fact there are two readings of Ellington's "Azure," providing the most recognizable moments on the record. One can distinguish not only the lovely melody, but also the interspersed anarchic arpeggios that recall Art Tatum's mid-1950s solo recordings.
Paradoxically, even as Lossing's maelstrom of beautifully played notes is energizing, it can also be tiring. But let's be clear: it is never tiresome.