Both these solo piano discs have the feel of "recital" recordings by virtuosos, though the virtuosity is not about a lot of notes or about a fancy "look at me technique, but about telling stories at the keyboard.
From My Field
Adam Makowicz was known as something of a wunderkind when he released his first recordings in America in the late '70s. He had classical technique but could also do Art Tatum and Erroll Garner and knew the American Songbooks. His new album features standards, interpretations of a fellow countryman, Frederic Chopin, and originals that sound as if they're already part of a Songbook.
Listen to "Dancing Reflections, which blends bebop and a bouncing, rolling swing; imagine "Parisian Thoroughfare meets Broadway. And then comes a slow and gorgeous take on "When I Fall in Love, which sounds like a glorious piano etude that never lets go of the emotional longing inherent in the tune. Through over 75 minutes, Makowicz tells storiesabout his original home, about his adopted New York home and about his home in the world of music.
In a trio context live at Birdland last month, Makowicz expanded on his brilliance as he delicately and intelligently interacted with bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster. Carefully listening to each other, they underscored the elements and mechanics of communication. Foster seemed to be playing brushes on every tune, keenly aware of the dynamics of playing in a trio. Mraz is a magnificent soloist but also a thoughtful band memberhe knows how to complement a soloist but still make clear his own powerful identity.
Israeli-born pianist Eyran Katsenelenbogen also finds new ways to fit together classical training and a jazz sensibility. All the tunes are jazz or popular standards, but he approaches each one as if it were a tone poem with a rich and important story to tell. There is something of the educational in these performancesthe pianist is an accomplished teacher who has even pioneered techniques for teaching music performance to autistic childrenbut Katsenelenbogen comes off as the terrifically engaging instructor who manages to be informative and entertaining at the same time.
It's no wonder that he has found champions in the press and in the eyes of other musiciansPaul Bley has called him "a pianist of extraordinary ability and a musician of rare quality. He seems to be having quite some time as he digs into these piecesmost we know only too wellreconfiguring and reimagining them while holding on to what makes them special.
The man has a sense of invention and a sense of humorhear how he pulls "Take Five out of an introductory passage that feels like a Middle Eastern chant or an Israeli invocation. The 5/4 rhythm comes dancing out and opens up to reveal the artist's rich palette of colors and textures. It's sensual, smart and funny; it never stoops to gimmickry and never overemphasizes its "eccentric" time signature.
Katsenelenbogen is also a poet when it comes to tackling balladslisten to his gorgeous reading of "The Christmas Song. It almost sounds like a song we we haven't heard before, thanks to the phrasing and harmonies. And the pianist finds richness in the rarely heard "Do You Love Me from Fiddler on the Roof
Both of these albums feel like journeys that take us to places we thought we knew but experience anew.
Tracks and Personnel
From My Field
Tracks: Dancing Reflections; When I Fall in Love; Returning Thoughts; Had I Loved You; Prelude No. 25, Opus 45; Midnight Sun; Her Blue Ring; 8.My One and Only Love; Gathering the Harvest from My Field; Nocturne No. 1, Opus 15; Where are You?; Prelude No. 2, Opus 28; Where is Love?; 14. Love Me or Leave Me; Nocturne No.1, Opus 45; Mazurka No. 4, Opus 17.
Personnel: Adam Macowicz: piano.
Tracks: Do You Love Me?; Stompin' At the Savoy; Solitude; Lady Be Good; Jersey Bounce; Rhythm-a-ning; Take Five; Armando's Rhumba; Monk; Blue Monk; Four Brothers; But Beautiful; All the Things You Are; The Christmas Song; You Must Believe in Spring; Bouncing With Bud; Do You Love Me?
Personnel: Eyran Katsenelenbogen: piano.