“Gardony – Signature Time” – Laszlo Gardony, piano; John Lockwood, Bass; Yoron Israel, drums & vibraharp; Stan Strickland, tenor saxophone & vocals – Sunnyside Communications SSC 411, 49:00 ****:
This CD is a winner. All of the players are seasoned pros, the compositions are individually unique and inventive, and the standards are played imaginatively, sometimes with a touch of the bizarre. “Lullaby of Birdland” is a 1952 popular song by George Shearing, but Gardony’s take on its melody both bends and expands it. His repetitions of the key melody are fiercely declarative and highly expressive. I love both the false ending and the real one, the way it finally trails off. Nice engineering!
I’ve always found “Johnny Come Lately” by Billy Strayhorn rather simplistic, but Stan Strickland’s saxophone gives a slick passage into halls of improvisation, with Gardony and Lockwood accompanying him through the colorful textures. Lennon and McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” is loaded with embellishments of the lead melody in the first half, but then veers into spirited variations, which listeners have come to expect from spirited jazz. Like acrobats on a tight rope, the players straddle the melody and are dependent on it, but they perform daring tumbles and loops while on it. Towards the end the musicians decide to abandon the melody altogether in favor of a tidy rhythmic interlude. And of course “Lady Madonna” is given the royal jazz treatment, expressing less attachment to the traditional melody than you’d expect.
The original pieces are every bit as intriguing as the covers, perhaps more so. The peaceful “Silent Words” features a bewitching ostinato style reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” “On African Land” is a professional tour de force, with all of the members of the quartet contributing to this tribute to African music, which doesn’t particularly sound African as much as approach Africa’s percussive essence. I wasn’t that keen on the vocally repetitious “Spirit Dance” and felt that Stan Strickland’s rich voice could have been put to better use than in this chant-like vocalise (although he did warp it intriguingly in the final bars). “Bourbon Street Boogie” is so songful you can dance to it; in fact, you may be like my wife and fail to resist. “Under the Sky” is a sweet tune that the musicians follow most of the way, with occasional variations by Gardony on piano. It’s witty what he does to this unassuming song, deforming it in arresting ways, then embellishing it with a tasty tempo change halfway through.
Although less than fifty minutes long, this album is definitely worth getting. It may inspire you to get some more of this promising group’s CDs.
A 10-year anniversary of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society gets a welcome vinyl upgrade.