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Larry Karush: Art of the Improviser

C. Michael Bailey By

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Naxos Jazz—Again and Again. Naxos Jazz releases improve with each wave hitting the market's shore. The music released ranges from middle-of-the-road mainstream (Gordon Brisker Quintet— The Gift [86001]) to the avant-garde (Niko Schäuble— On the Other Hand [86011]). Naxos Jazz has released discs devoted to Jazz giants (James Zollar— Soaring with Bird [86008] and Bill Cunliffe— Bill Plays Bud [86024]) and contemporary big band music (UMO Jazz Orchestra— UMO Jazz Orchestra [86010] and Tolvan Big Band— Tolvan Big Band [86025]). Naxos Jazz continues its explorations America's native music with the release of its first solo instrument recital, Art of the Improviser by pianist Larry Karush.

Stylistic Interrogation. Mr. Karush performs a collection of original compositions that through his talent playfully question the entire spectrum of American music. Each piece is an interrogatory, coaxing attitude and panache from musical styles as diverse as Country and Western ("Country") to Third Stream Jazz ("L's Ps"), and New York Stride ("Variations on a Theme by James P. Johnson") to American Minimalism ("Why Can't it Be?"). Karush performs all of this while still brushing the edges of Jazz. In his investigations, Mr. Karush shines a light into the dark corners of these different styles, revealing something fresh and new about them. I cite the wonderful musical dyslexia of "The Nine Beat Boogie". The listener is expecting a straight ahead jump blues and is treated with a brilliantly wobbly boogie woogie. Larry Karush possesses an impressive breadth and depth, having performed with such artists as Soprano Saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, Guitarist John Abercrombie, and the progressive jazz group Oregon. Karush appeared on Steve Reich's pivotal minimalist masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians in 1976. This influence is effectively displayed on "Why Can't it Be?" and "Meditation", where the former sounds like Philip Glass with a slightly greater complexity and the latter has a moody Twentieth Century classical personality. The disc's closer, "Reach" sounds like a well-behaved Charles Ives piece, with an emphasis on well-behaved.

Le Banjo. The centerpiece of the disc is without question the 15 minute tour de force "Banjo Variations." In first reading the title, I thought of American Classical composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "Le Banjo" op. 15. I hear "Banjo Variations" picking up where Gottschalk left off in Americana and carrying the banjo theme into a multicultural cosmos, examining Bluegrass, Ragtime, Classical, and Eastern traditions.

Josef Woodward writes in the liner notes, "Art of the Improviseris an inspired – even visionary – statement from a pianist who has steadfastly developed his musical voice, in a fruitful margin off the jazz mainstream." Indeed. No jazz listener should deprive his or herself of this little treasure so seductively budget priced.

Naxos Jazz. This recording is among the third wave of Naxos Jazz releases, all of which have been review within these electric pages by this critic. I have found that all of these recordings have been of a very high quality. All, for the most part, have been recorded live direct to two track digital, preserving that special spontaneity that is jazz. Naxos Jazz has also provided a wide variety of styles and performances, all executed superbly. The other recent Naxos Jazz recordings include Bill Cunliffe's Bill Plays Bud (Naxos Jazz 86024-2), Clifford Adams' The Master Power (Naxos Jazz 86015-2), the Mike Nock Quintet's Ozboppin' (Naxos Jazz 86019-2), Flipside's Flipside (Naxos Jazz 86013-2), and Donny McCaslin's Exile and Discovery (Naxos Jazz 86014-2).


Track Listing: Banjo Variations, Why It Can't Be?, L's P's, Meditation, Nine Beat Boogie, Country, Variations on a Theme by James P. Johnson, Reach.

Personnel: Larry Karush: Piano.

Title: Art of the Improviser | Year Released: 1999

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