Laszlo Gardony, piano – Clarity – Sunnyside SSC 4014 ****:
Laszlo Gardony’s Clarity had an unusual genesis. Alone in the studio one night, the pianist started playing some improvisations. Feeling particularly creative, he turned on his equipment and recorded himself working out ten distinct pieces. He didn’t change or edit anything. The resulting body of work has the spontaneity of a live recording with none of the exterior distractions–no coughing, no catcalls, no whoops, and (unfortunately for him) no applause.
How did it turn out? Pretty good, for the most part. The opening piece “Settling of a Racing Mind,” opens by poking at a simple ostinato melody, and then develops in a leisurely peaceful fashion. It has a deceptively simple melancholic flow, as does the next piece, “Surface Reflections.” At their most lyrical moments, both pieces remind me of parts of Keith Jarrett’s Cöln Concert (1975), also a one-take performance (albeit live) with a craggy terrain of emotions. “Looking Deeper” is an initially slow piece with fast duplets and triplets, devices that enhance its unpredictable and quirky atmosphere. Several figures border on the sentimental, but soon the piece hovers off to more distant promontories of invention.
The title piece, “Working Through (Clarity),” is like a cup of fine Darjeeling tea: tasty, hearty and almost – but not quite – enervating. It is not late night music, but more like early evening music, the kind you settle into after a hard day and use as a stress reducer. “Finding Strength” has similar tempo, and at first sounds like a companion piece, but soon shows firmer musical musculature. “Better Place” is one of the two longest pieces on the CD, and uses its eleven minutes wisely. It flaunts beguiling tempo shifts and thematic developments that make it well worth several listens. Who knows? You may find fruit in the peel that you missed the first time.
I wasn’t that keen on the other long piece on the disk, “Resilient Joy,” whose structure reminds me of eighty-year-old stride and even earlier ragtime piano compositions (in spirit more than direct technique). Gardony repeats his perky melody a bit too frequently for my taste. In my opinion, he could have explored it more and put it through dense changes, twisting its inherent simplicity into almost unrecognizable shapes, perhaps settling into a more whimsical piece at the end. As is, it’s a pleasant diversion that’s about five minutes too long.
“Resolution” opens with an ear-tickling series of 32nd notes, and then slows down to a deftly accented melody that could get heads bobbing in live performances. Nostalgia saunters through like a film noir character in a gray fedora, and slowly departs in the distance without looking back. Clarity is a solo gamble that for the most part, has paid off for Gardony. It’s neither cool nor hot jazz, but offers its own share of warmth.