Pianist Peter Madsen is well rounded in his jazz foundation, having played inside the mainstream and outside. He has the knowledge, musicianship and technique for both, and in fact says he comes by it honestly, being attracted to both sides as a youngster.
"I can tell you the first two records I bought. Maybe that's why I've been fascinated with both sides of jazz, straight ahead and very avant-garde things. That was Oscar Peterson Night Train (Verve, 1962) and John Coltrane's Selflessness (Impulse!, 1963), with McCoy Tyner on piano. So I kind of started from the outside and the inside right at the first moment. From there I really didn't stop, says Madsen. "I expanded both of those things quite a lot in my understanding and playing and collecting of music, and trying to understand what's going on out there and what people have been trying to do. Trying to be respectful with an understanding of all the great people who've put their energy into this kind of a lifestyle.
It's with that respect, and also with his particular sense of improvisational adventure, that Madsen developed his latest Playscape recording, Prevue of Tomorrow. It's a solo piano disc in which Madsen takes other musicians' tunes and runs them down intriguing creative paths that spring from his mind alone. The songs are not jazz standards. They aren't the kinds of tunes that seem to show up on so many other solo piano projects. They were created by some of the people he admires; some of the people he feels were worthy of getting more exposure.
Says Madsen, "I've always been fascinated by pianists who are composers. The underground. The alternative guys. As much as I love all the straight-ahead guys and admired them for years too, I'm always somehow more fascinated with the guys who are trying to scrape out their own little world somehow, outside of the visible jazz world, shall we say. I'm a record collector and I'm always searching for interesting recordings, especially piano players of course. All of these guys were my heroes in a way for the past many, many years. As I was looking to put something together, kind of an alternative type of concept, I started looking through, picking things out of records, listening back and picking things out that over the years may have influenced me and what I was doing.
The songs include Mal Waldron's "Boo, Cecil Taylor's "Rick Kick Shaw, Andrew Hill's "Subterfuge and "A Portrait of the Living Shy, by Sun Ra. Herbie Nichols, Randy Weston, Lennie Tristano, Muhal Richard Abrams, Hasaan Ibn Ali, and Richard Twardzik are also represented with selections
Of the songs from which he took the inspiration "none of them were really solo piano records, so right off the bat I'm starting from a different point of view. But they were at least trio records. Some were large groups. ... I think these guys have not had so much visibility and they deserve more visibility. Not just from me but for themselves, of course. I'm just happy I could use them, in a sense, to springboard into my own improvisation.
In his renditions, Madsen is percussive and aggressive at times. Softer, more lyrical at others, as the spirit moves him He seems to take advantage of a wide range of the piano's dynamics. The ideas are fresh and it's interesting to follow the journey. Cerebral, and yet it very much has emotional qualities, which can be heard in the records he has done with a great many musicians.
Boo is a strong, bold statement with lots of two-handed playing in the lower register and a wisp of the blues. "Subterfuge is a rumbling, rolling ride through the hills. "Three-Four vs. Six-Eight Four-Four Ways is a quirky trek through varying time signatures, weaving "in and "out. "Blues for Africa projects an almost classical sensibility overlaid on a dark blues lament, before getting more to the center of the matter with pointed chords and authoritative single-note runs. The pianist speaks originally on each.
"It was a very strong thing for me to do, Madsen says. "It was a very emotional kind of project for me. Because these people (the song composers) the thing that makes them very special is at the core of their music is something very deep and powerful. They're touching from themselves and giving from some place very deep inside themselves when they play, and also when they write. And then what I tried to capture from myself, what I've always tried to capture in my music when I play.
Madsen's previous disc was also solo, as he re-worked Thelonious Monk tunes on Sphere Essence. While the material came from a pianist who is now mainstream, Monk was far from "standard during his lifetime. The pianist took a similar approach there, showing the ability to give his own expressions, coming at the material with an original bent.
"It's the same thing. Even how I approach it, I try not to do his normal pieces that everyone seems to know. I tried to pick other alternative pieces (of Monk). Because he did write so many great pieces and everybody focuses on the same four. Great pieces, of course, but there are a lot of great pieces that didn't get as much attention. That's one of my things. I'm always trying to look for some other quality things that haven't been getting the attention that they should.
Madsen's resume as a musician includes associations with a wide variety of styles and with artists renowned, and not so well known. He is capable of adding the right elements to any of those scenes. It includes Stan Getz, Stanley Turrentine, Dewey Redman, George Coleman, Oscar Brown Jr., Arthur Blythe, Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano, Sonny Fortune, Dave Liebman, Eddie Henderson, Ravi Coltrane, Greg Osby, Carlos Ward, Thomas Chapin, Ralph Moore, Paul McCandless, Pee Wee Ellis, Steve Slagle, Marty Ehrlich, Tony Malaby, Richie Cole, Maceo Parker, Steve Wilson, Chris Potter, Seamus Blake, Tom Harrell, Bill Frisell, the Mingus Big Band, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and many more. And yet, stylistically, he says it's difficult to pick out his major influences, because he's listened to all the pianists in the jazz pantheonand beyond.
"I'm a historical record collector. I really can't say any particular people. I listen to so many. I don't think you can know the 'outside' of music until you know the 'inside' of music. I'm fascinated by the inside guys as much as the outside guys. I try to listen to so many different people and not just jazz people. I'm fascinated by a lot of different things, from African music to Chinese musicany kind of world music, says Madsen.
"I'm fascinated by the great musicians that play all these different kinds of music. Right now, (in Austria, where he lives part of the time), I'm in a group with two African guys, two American guys and two Austrian guys. It's a mixture between jazz and African music. It's an interesting experiment. We write music together as a group. Everybody throws in what they know.