With the number of pianists whose style stems directly from Keith Jarrett, it's easy to forget that his biggest influence was Paul Bley. While Jarrett has moved on to forge his own personal aesthetic, Bley was the one first provided a more lyrical alternative to Cecil Taylor's aggressively cathartic free play: a more thoughtful, considered improvisation as comfortable with the spaces between the notes, and the quality and overtones of their decay, as with the actual notes themselves.
Since emerging in the latter half of the '90s, pianist Greg Burk has bypassed the Jarrett way station and developed his own approach that links more directly to Bley's vision of spontaneous composition. Unlike Bley, however, who rebels completely against the concept of written music, Burk believes in creating preconceived foundations for more extended improvisations. Nowhere is this more evident than on Nothing, Knowing, his fourth disc as a leader since '01 and his most fully realized effort to date.
Back from his previous trio date, '02's Checking In, is drummer Bob Moses, who seemed to be all over the scene in the '70s but has kept a lower profile in recent years. But what makes Nothing, Knowing especially memorable is the inclusion of electric bassist Steve Swallow. Swallow worked with Moses in vibraphonist Gary Burton's adventurous mid-'70s group with guitarists Mick Goodrick and a wet-behind-the-ears Pat Metheny, and their synergistic instincts remain remarkably intact, even after thirty years.
While there's nothing especially new in the concept of boundary-blurring between form and freedom, Burk's take reflects not only his extensive jazz background, but a classical upbringing as well, the result of being born to parents both actively involved in classical pursuits. There's a certain contrapuntal nature to Burk's charts and the way the trio improvises that should come as no surprise when one recalls Bouncing Bach, his group with guitarist Garrison Fewell that examined the music of Bach from a jazz vantage point.
Burk's multifaceted exposure is evident in the breadth of writing on Nothing, Knowing. The rubato tone poem "Blink to Be is reminiscent of pianist Bobo Stenson's '70s work with saxophonist Jan Garbarek; "Old Souls sounds equally like an ECM outtake from the same period. In direct contrast to the abstract impressionism of these pieces is "Prelude to Surrender demonstrating a skewed tip of the hat to stride and even a hint of ragtime, all within an open-ended contextand "Operetta, which orbits the closest around the mainstream. The album's nineteen-minute centrepiece, "Truth be Bold, manages to act as a link between these seemingly disparate universes, showing just how vividly the trio communicates, persistently evolving throughout the piece. Throughout, Burk's seemingly paradoxical ability to sound both considered and unfettered is a marvel.
A lot of piano trio recordings are released every year, but for sheer scope and unencumbered interplay that magically retains a sense of lyricism throughout, Nothing, Knowing stands out from the rest: continued evidence that Burk, while still relatively young, has all the makings of a musical giant.
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