Andrew Russo

Mix Tape

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Pianist Andrew Russo sure knows how to put on a good show! His 2007 release Dirty Little Secret was one of the most entertaining albums of the year, and Mixtape is a worthy successor. Russo asked 10 composers to create arrangements of their favorite pop songs, and Russo contributed two of his own. The resulting recital is always exhilarating, and often astonishing, and it offers huge stylistic variety. Few of the composers provided Russo with a simple piano solo; most either ask him to play a variety of keyboards or have a strong electronic component, in which the piano is only one element. Some, like Evan Ziporyn's straightforward take on the B-52's "Dead Beat Club," are virtuoso pieces in which the original song is easily recognizable. Others, like Marc Mellits' "Three of a Perfect Pair" by King Crimson, are extravagant riffs in which the original is so transformed that it's barely discernible. Some are so thoroughly electronic that they seem like extremely sophisticated covers that wouldn't sound out of place in a dance mix. David Lang's hilarious version of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" requires the pianist to recite the exuberant lyrics in a flat, affectless deadpan over a stuttering, herky-jerky rhythm that uses the song's actual progressions. Among the more eccentric arrangements is Mellits' piece based on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Jerusalem," which was in turn based on an Edwardian Anglican anthem by Hubert Parry. Mellits turns it into a woozy dreamscape full of giddy organ glissandos with shimmering new age sonics. This isn't repertoire that calls for much subtlety or delicacy, and Russo's playing is appropriately muscular and extroverted. The virtuosic demands of some of the pieces are extravagant, and Russo pulls it off with tremendous style, vitality, and an infectious sense of fun. The sound is immediate and vibrant, and the energy is practically palpable.

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