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Jazz and New York are like hot dogs and baseball, or peanut butter and jelly. The Big Apple has been the epicenter of so many important movements and moments in jazz, that it's hard to think of any other placesave perhaps New Orleansthat deserves the honor of being captured in song. Pianist Dave Frank, widely recognized as a premier jazz educator and performer, pays tribute to New York with solo piano paintings of various streets and locales, and four reworked standards, on Portrait Of New York.
Frank's steady and creative left-hand linesjuxtaposed against a right hand that can be alternately relaxed or off-the-charts fastis his calling card. A strong blues-affinity resides within his creations, but his ability to modernize older forms with slight abstractionsbe it an altered chord progression or oddly angular intervals in his steady bass linesis what makes this music so engaging. "Full Force NYC" opens the album and Frank's right hand seems to represent the hustle and bustle of New York life, as he throws out some jaw dropping runs. "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" is a bit more traditional in nature, but Frank's faster-than-usual take on "Perdido" breaths some fresh air into that well-worn classic.
While most of the originals refer to places, Frank does pay tribute to two piano giants with "McKenna/McCoy." The forward momentum found on this particular piece makes it a winner, though it never hints at the percussive power in McCoy Tyner's playing. Frank's slow, bluesy-woozy "Lower East Side Shuffle" is a real treat, though this track could have also benefited from some heavy-handed heft.
While Frank's flashier tendencies occasionally come to the fore during the more excitable songs, he proves to be a masterful ballad sculptor as well. Pangs of sadness, loss and regret come through on his emotionally reflective performance of "This Nearly Was Mine." Mysterious melodic threads are sewn in the upper regions of the piano as "My Man's Gone Now" begins. Some depression sets into the music and rubato rears it's head here, though this track eventually takes on a more defined rhythmic direction than the Richard Rodgers tune. Frank's own "Manhattan Moonlight" is pretty and classy, in an unassuming way.
Portrait Of New York paints a wonderful picture of solo piano possibilities and Manhattan-themed melodies, but it also serves as a portrait of Dave Frank...one of the most creative pianists around today.
Track Listing: Full Force NYC; Broadway Boogie-Woogie; This Nearly Was Mine; Midtown 9 AM; Perdido; My Man's Gone; Lower East Side Shuffle; McKenna/McCoy; Manhattan by Moonlight; Bowery Blues; You And The Night And The Music; Times Square.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.