A bounty of brilliance from Boston pianist Pandelis Karayorgis | Bleader

A bounty of brilliance from Boston pianist Pandelis Karayorgis


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Habitués of this space probably know of my esteem for Boston pianist and composer Pandelis Karayorgis, a musician whose rigorous explorations of the less frequented corners of jazz history have consistently yielded deeply original and compelling new sounds. He's managed to revisit the work of pianists like Lennie Tristano, Herbie Nichols, Elmo Hope, Hassan, and early Cecil Taylor and bring back consistently fresh ideas in all sorts of contexts. Earlier this year he and Boston-based reedist Jorrit Dijkstra launched Driff Records—the label just added four new titles to its catalog, and they have me thinking that this might be the most exciting new jazz label in 2013.

Circuitous is a recording that highlights the pianist's strong connection to Chicago—which was forged back in the 90s when reedist Guillermo Gregorio first worked with him, and has been strengthened by his sporadic projects with Ken Vandermark; it's a marvelous quintet with reedists Dave Rempis and Keefe Jackson (who leads a trio tonight for a free show at Constellation), bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Frank Rosaly. All of those musicians are Chicagoans (although McBride has recently returned to Boston). Karayorgis has discussed the fact that he used the classic Tony Williams album Spring as a model for the instrumentation of this group, but the sound is all its own, with punchy, angular melodies, a wide dynamic range (from the softest rustling to the loudest, juddering blasts), and ingenious arrangements that color in the oblique melodies and provide endless suspense. In fact, as strong as the solos are throughout the record, I almost enjoy the composed sections most, like the brilliantly onomatopoeic buzzing that opens "Swarm," which you can hear below. This band has performed on a handful occasions in Chicago, including a strong gig at last year's Umbrella Music Festival, but I sure hope this release brings another one, stat.

I've had the music from Circuitous for a long while, but since I just got the package from Driff this week I've only heard the excellent new trio outing by Karayorgis a couple of times—still, that's enough to know how good it is. On Cocoon he's supported by bassist Jef Charland and drummer Luther Grey, both of whom contribute a few compositions, although the lion's share are from the leader. It's a much more introspective and quiet affair than Circuitous, but it's equally rewarding and relentlessly swinging. The rhythm section is a lean, agile machine, functioning as the sturdy armature for the pianist's wonderfully jagged, sometimes glassy improvisations. Karayorgis is fond of his instrument's left end, punctuating phrases with brusque bass stabs, but his mastery of harmony—finding unexpected, piquant chords in every conceivable situation—is the thing. I can't say too much more since there's plenty to absorb, but the tunes are sticking to my brain and I'm looking forward to all the revelations contained within. Below you can check out one of the leader's characteristically catchy and knotty tunes, "You Took My Coffee and Left."

Karayorgis turns up in more abstract mode on Window and Doorway, a session cut in New Haven, Connecticut, a couple of summers ago with Gregorio and New York trombonist Steve Swell that mixes compositions by each participant with three free improv pieces. Partly due to the drum-free instrumentation and partly due to the patient interaction and careful listening of the participants, there's a dominant chamber feel to the recording, even on the improvised pieces. You can check out "Hazy Recall," by Karayorgis below.

Finally, there's the second volume of The Music of Steve Lacy by the Whammies—an all-star combo with Karayorgis, Dijkstra, McBride, trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Han Bennink, and violist Mary Oliver. I haven't had a chance to tap into this one, but I sure loved the group's first release. Below you can hear "Threads."

Today's playlist:

Joe Gordon, Introducing Joe Gordon (Emarcy, Japan)
Michael Dessen Trio, Forget the Pixel (Clean Feed)
Tim Maia, Tim Maia (1970) (Abril Coleções/Polydor, Brazil)
Low, C'mon (Sub Pop)
Darius Jones Trio, Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) (Aum Fidelity)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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