160

Kevin Hays: Variations

Dan Bilawsky By

Sign in to view read count
Kevin Hays: Variations When famed jazz scholar Gunther Schuller first coined the term "Thematic Improvisation," he wasn't introducing a new concept so much as shedding light on how jazz artists had come to use the age-old "Theme And Variations" format in their own sweet way. While nobody would argue that grand compositional gestures or outré improvisations from a master musician can be revealing, hearing an artist dissect and rebuild a musical theme on the spot is the real window into their mind. A musician may have all of the usual musical tools at their disposal, like key changes, tempo changes, rhythmic diminution and augmentation, and harmonic and melodic alteration, but they're only tools, and the artist still has to do the heavy lifting with the head, hands and heart.

Noted pianist Kevin Hays explores the virtues of variants on this simply titled CD, as he delivers 24 musical miniatures in just over fifty minutes. The music itself can be alternately prosaic, romantic, staid, somber, unsettling, or stirring, but all of it paints Hays as a wizard of harmony and clarity. His touch places him in a class by himself and he seems to be one of the few ivory ticklers that understand how to use the full range of the instrument. Few pianists dare to spend time in the deepest recesses of the eighty-eights, and most who try end up creating a muddy mess, but Hays has big ears and fine fingers that coax rich and wondrous harmonies from the piano's deepest, darkest places.

While a clear choice was made not to program the thematically linked pieces in order, skipping around to hear all of the variations on the same idea in sequence may be the best way to visit this music and appreciate his method of development and creation. Hays uses simplicity as an entry point to more Romantic notions, eventually ending up in dirge-like environs with deeply resonant bass tones that resemble a tolling bell of doom on his "Variations On A Theme By Schumann," but that's only one of several scenarios explored herein. Elsewhere, he milks angular piano paranoia for all it's worth ("The Dervish Of Harlem" variations), plays the part of a pseudo-minimalist with repeated arpeggiated lines ("Bluetude" variants), and deals with Baroque ideals as subtext in his work during parts of the "Contrapunctus" and "Countermyth" collections.

On the whole, Variations tends to lean toward the modern classical side of music, with improvisatory creationism being its one and only true link to jazz, but labeling is beside the point. Variations is pure pianism on parade.


Track Listing: Variations On A Theme By Schumann I; Bluetude I; The Dervish Of Harlem I; Song For The Amiable Child I; Contrapunctus I; Rumi's View I; Countermyth I; Rhyming Game I; The Dervish Of Harlem II; Countermyth II; Langsam; The Long Line; Song For The Amiable Child II; Countermyth III; Variations On A Theme By Schumann II; Bluetude II; Rhyming Game II; Countermyth IV; Rumi's View II; Contrapunctus II; Song For The Amiable Child III; The Dervish Of Harlem III; Bluetude III; Variations On A Theme By Schumann III.

Personnel: Kevin Hays: piano.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Pirouet Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture CD/LP/Track Review The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Coldest Second Yesterday CD/LP/Track Review Coldest Second Yesterday
by John Sharpe
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Follow Your Heart CD/LP/Track Review Follow Your Heart
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 25, 2017
Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Chicago II CD/LP/Track Review Chicago II
by Doug Collette
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Potsdamer Platz" CD/LP/Track Review Potsdamer Platz
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: February 3, 2017
Read "My Scandinavian Blues: A Tribute To Horace Parlan" CD/LP/Track Review My Scandinavian Blues: A Tribute To Horace Parlan
by Chris Mosey
Published: November 8, 2016
Read "Circles and Landscapes" CD/LP/Track Review Circles and Landscapes
by John Eyles
Published: March 16, 2016
Read "The Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" CD/LP/Track Review The Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: February 4, 2017
Read "Stephan Crump's Rhombal" CD/LP/Track Review Stephan Crump's Rhombal
by Mark Corroto
Published: October 15, 2016
Read "Woodclock" CD/LP/Track Review Woodclock
by Eyal Hareuveni
Published: July 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!