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Integrating classical influences within an improvisational context is nothing new. What is less common, however, is the idea that there is a syntactical similarity between jazz artists including Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and classical composers including Chopin and J.S. Bach. With New Inventions pianist/ composer Paul Hofmann bridges the gap between these seemingly disparate styles; asserting, in fact, that they share more in common than one might think.
Hofmann forwards the not-so-novel but rarely considered idea that improvisation is the root of everything, and that it is only the process of examination and self-editing that shapes it into more formal structure. Before the advent of audio recordings composers were restricted to the pen and paper to commit ideas to permanency. And the same way that the written word is essentially improvised at first, and then edited into a more permanent final form, so are the works of many classical composers rooted in extemporization.
Armed with that concept and a form that follows Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier , where the performer moves uninterrupted through the major and minor variations of all twelve key signatures, Hofmann has created a piece where each of twenty-four movements is based around three distinct phases: first, an original improvised single note theme, followed by a new improvised right hand melody played over a written left hand harmonic framework, concluded by the original theme supported by the written harmonies.
All well and good, of course, but perhaps a tad academic sounding. Fortunately Hofmann is a fine and impassioned performer with a firm background in classical music, jazz rhythms and harmonies, and the juncture between the two. Assessing individual movements is meaningless; suffice it to say that “New Inventions” is emotionally captivating, with moods running the gamut from joyful to melancholy, playful to sombre. Hofmann is both lyrical and economical, with a light touch and innate concept of how to develop the music, both within the confines of the individual movements and for the entire piece as a whole. There is nothing hurried or forced; the piece evolves over the course of seventy minutes, taking the listener through a myriad of stylistic conceits that all manage to tie together by virtue of its conceptual focus.
Bookending the ambitious undertaking are “Three Short Pieces,” written by Paul’s father John, which are charmingly simple and make perfect sense as an introduction to the main event; and Mike Metheny’s “Deceptive Resolution,” which forms a more harmonically complex coda.
Hofmann is a pianist who, with a fairly rich body of work already available on his own MHR Records, is also gaining some notoriety as a result of his duo recording with guitarist Bob Sneider, Interconnection . But with New Inventions he has created a statement where bold aspirations are successfully met with élan; the perfect confluence of his roles as educator and performer.
Track Listing: Three Short Pieces: Sonatina, A Sad Song, Thirds for Paul New Inventions: No. 1 in C, No. 2 in C Minor, No. 3 in D-Flat, No. 4 in C-Sharp Minor, No. 5 in D, No. 6 in D Minor, No. 7 in E-Flat, No 8. in E-Flat Minor, No. 9 in E, No 10. in E Minor, No. 11 in F, No. 12 in F Minor, No. 13 in F-Sharp, No. 14 in F-Sharp Minor, No. 15 in G, No. 16 in G Minor, No. 17 in A-Flat, No. 18 in G-Sharp Minor, No. 19 in A, No. 20 in A Minor, No. 21 in B-Flat, No. 22 in B-Flat Minor, No. 23 in B, No. 24 in B Minor Deceptive Resolution
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.