Pandelis Karayorgis

Seventeen Pieces

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Through the latter half of the 20th century, an enduring cult figure in modern jazz was the Boston-based composer, academic, and pianist Ran Blake. In addition to his duties as the Chair of Contemporary Improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music, Blake has recorded sporadically, usually in solo or duo settings, creating a small but knotty category of near-abstract originals and quirky deconstructions of jazz standards. This is worth mentioning, because on first listen (if not second or third), the first solo album by bandleader/pianist Pandelis Karayorgis sounds startlingly like one of Ran Blake's solo records. It's worth noting that Karayorgis has two degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, although his official bio names Paul Bley as his primary teacher and inspiration. Bley is certainly present in these settings, as is the familiar choppy, percussive style of Thelonious Monk, whose "Ugly Beauty" and "Criss Cross" are idiosyncratically reworked. But just as Blake does, Karayorgis has a unique style as a solo pianist. Just a little over half of these 17 pieces are post-bop standards by Monk, Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy, and Duke Ellington, among others. Karayorgis ignores standard rhythms almost entirely on these songs, interspersing long legato phrases, brief passages of near-silence, and sudden bursts of musical energy that suggest a piano version of John Coltrane's sheets of sound approach. Ironically, it's Sun Ra's "Super Bronze," in its original form the most out-there song among the originals, that Karayorgis turns into the simplest, most immediately approachable tune. Being unfamiliar with Karagorgis' originals makes them sound comparatively more straightforward than the covers, simply because they lack the same sense of surprise. Regardless, Seventeen Pieces is occasionally challenging but always entertaining.

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