Pianist Andrew Russo takes the "encore album," a collection of short, crowd-pleasing, often-trivial virtuoso pieces, as the jumping-off point for his new CD, and the leap he makes is a long one. The pieces, with the exception of Scott Joplin's 1899 Maple Leaf Rag, were written in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, and while they are all vastly entertaining, they are also irreverent, and none could be characterized as trivial. Russo's attitude is most obvious in the most familiar piece, Joplin's rag, on which he improvises with a freedom and abandon that would horrify purists, but that might well have put a smile on the composer's face.
The CD opens with a splash, with Jacob ter Veldhuis' The Body of Your Dreams, for boom box and piano, a hilarious riff on sound samples from an infomercial for the Abtronic Pro -- "the latest evolution in the fitness phenomenon!" At almost nine minutes, it might be expected that the joke would wear thin, but the escalating looniness and absurdity that ter Veldhuis conjures up is so astonishing that the listener might have to repress an urge to immediately replay the track. In addition to works by Gerard Beljon, Derek Bermel, Morton Gould, Amonte Parsons, Marc Mellits, and Aaron Jay Kernis, the collection contains several modern classics: a Ligeti etude, Bolcom's Poltergeist Rag, and Adams' China Gates, which sounds positively chaste, but not in a bad way, in the midst of so much pianistic exuberance. Besides compiling a brilliant program, Russo is a brilliant pianist -- interpretively daring, smart, and technically secure, with the sensibility of a natural-born entertainer. This CD would be of interest to anyone who loves pianistic virtuosity in the service of fresh and engaging new music.