Pianist Harold Danko is well known in the jazz education field as chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the Eastman School of Music. One would suppose that, while taking his educational work seriously, this 'steady job' allows him to pick and choose the best moments for creative musical statements. Two recent CDsEscapades
(piano trio) and Gone
(with tenor saxophonist Rich Perry
's Quartet)display the scope of his artistry. Danko's approach is one of subtlety and sophistication, not of pyrotechnics (though his technical facility is formidable). He often takes a recognizable tune and changes the setting and mood to produce performances that are pleasantly surprising. For instance, Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana" practically defines the heights of taste and refinement to which a piano trio can soar; on Escapades
, Danko neither tries to out-groove Jamal or deconstruct the tune in an attempt to produce something revolutionary, content to play it as a gentle, graceful samba with Michael Formanek
's bass as lead melodic voice and Jeff Hirshfield
's perfect rhythmic underpinning. There are also tunes associated with hornplayers such as Kenny Dorham's "Escapade" and "Brown's Town" and Joe Henderson's "Serenity," all receiving treatments that suggest what Bill Evans might have done had he approached these gems of the Blue Note era. "All the Things You Are" has been played a million times, by thousands of jazz artists, but here Danko plays it with a lilting 6/8 feel that focuses the performance on his melodic imagination within the new rhythmic challenge. Inside the pianist's relatively short (less than 5 minutes) rendition, he unfolds a universe of new possibilities. On Rich Perry's Gone
, Danko carefully and skillfully gives a lot of space to the leader's sound. On "Gone with the Wind," he is silent for significant stretches, allowing Perry's improvisation to manifest rhythmic and melodic dexterity. Much has been written about the long-standing work of this particular quartet (with bassist Jay Anderson
and drummer Jeff Hirshfield
) but the creative synergy between saxophonist and pianist cannot be mentioned enough. The way Danko hangs on Perry's every musical word, choosing when to accompany or when to lay out is one of the great demonstrations of musical teamwork in recent jazz history. "Emily" is another good example: the piano chords are important to frame the tenor melody; they are equals. As the tenor finishes the melodic preamble, bass and drums enter and the focus is on a piano solo in a gently swinging 3/4 time. Danko shapes his statement perfectly, arcing back into an exceptional tenor lead, Anderson's solo leading perfectly back into the tune's opening feel. The CD concludes with Jimmy Van Heusen's "Nancy With The Laughing Face," a tune that may not have been performed as much as "All the Things You Are" but certainly recorded by its share of legends like Sinatra, Coltrane and Cannonball. Perry's version holds its own and then some alongside these heavyweights.
Tracks and Personnel Escapades
Tracks: Murmur Not; All The Things You Are; Tired Trade; Poinciana; Escapade; Serenity; Yesterdays; Brown's Town; What Is This Thing Called Love.
Personnel: Harold Danko: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.. Gone
Tracks: Gone With The Wind; Theme For Ernie; Don't Blame Me; Emily; You Say You Care; Estaté; Nancy With The Laughin' Face.
Personnel: Harold Danko: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums; Rich Perry: tenor sax.