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Marius Nordal: Notoriety

Jason West By

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Oscar Peterson used to advise his students not to be afraid of the piano. Somehow, I don’t think it was piano they feared.

Listening to Marius Nordal’s “Notoriety” can be just as intimidating. Nordal’s technical mastery of the piano is immediately apparent, and his arrangements---he’s worked primarily as a composer---are highly original. To echo the words of Count Basie, Nordal plays “a whole lot of piano,” and like all great music, the rewards are ultimately humbling, and greatly appreciated.

Amazingly, within nine songs Nordal brings to date virtually the entire history of jazz piano. Here is the stride of The Lion, the bebop of Bud, and the heavy groove of Miles—alongside numerous other influences in Nordal’s prolific musical vocabulary.

Three tunes are fine originals, yet Nordal is most notable when interpreting the standard jazz repertoire. In this arena, familiar melodies are a point of departure for the pianist’s organic inquiries, revealing fresh facets of tonal relationships, often overlooked by less accomplished musicians. This marriage of old and new exemplifies Nordal the composer, hip to the tradition, and respectful of its forms. Correspondingly, Nordal the player is unrestricted in his execution of musical ideas, be they bebop, swing, or stride. With intelligent fingers he unlatches windows of all euphonic shapes and sizes.

As a breathing exercise before the sprint begins, the intro to “Cherokee” is given its own cut on Notoriety. Played solo and up tempo, Nordal’s improvisational pyrotechnics set a firey pace. Joined by bass and drums, the tune officially begins with four infectious chords, evenly arpeggiated and balanced by eight bars of traditionally voiced changes. First-line Seattle musicians Doug Miller and John Bishop offer tasteful pizzicato lines and perfectly placed cymbal accents, respectively.

The engaging, rhythmic arrangements of Amhad Jamal naturally come to mind on Nordal’s version of “Billy Boy.” An unconventional introduction and conclusion are taken in blistering 7/4. Sandwiched between this decidedly Latin meter, Nordal barrels ahead in four, clearing melodic hurdles with tenacious chops.

However, the pianist’s tour de force is an extraordinary rendering of “Over the Rainbow.” In Nordal’s world, ruby slippers reharmonize into what seems like all twelve keys. Each modulation---gradual or fleeting---marks a stepping stone for melodic twists and twirls, at times reminiscent of Gershwin’s precocious variations on “Rhapsody in Blue.” Momentarily, the melody is clearly stated, swelling with each variation, gathering force, until the uninitiated listener is apt to feel like a crewmember on Columbus’ first voyage. No worries however, with Nordal leading the way “Rainbow” guarantees a cathartic and comprehensive journey.

“Notoriety” is Nordal’s initial recording as a pianist, released last year on Origin Records. A fledgling independent, headquartered in Seattle, Origin is unable to provide its musicians much in the way of full-scale national distribution and media exposure, however, modesty has its upside. Hidden beneath mega-corporate labels busy promoting twentysomething wunderkinds, are often real gems. Marius Nordal is a prime example. Luckily, diligent jazz fans, armed with the far reaching accessibility of the Internet, can now sample select musical vintages, and be first in line to taste the next highly anticipated Nordal release.


Click here for more information about Marius Nordal and his new release, “Notoriety”.


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