Leo Cuypers

Songbook

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AllMusic Review by

Pianist Leo Cuypers is among the most deft and expansive improvisers in jazz and one of its most iconoclastic characters. Take the circumstances surrounding this record. Cuypers, who was in a period of semi-retirement, went into a studio in Middleburg and recorded his solo recital compositions on a swing Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano with no plan for doing anything with them. After spending days getting almost all of his own songs down on tape, he played a garden recital during the spring new music festival in the same city in front of a virtual handful of listeners on a decent piano. He was recorded but didn't care to be. Upon hearing the recording he decided to release it instead of his studio pristine studio archive. What gives? Listening to the music here, one gets a sense of Cuypers unpredictability. His style is profoundly lyrical and elegant with elements of musical terrorism and dark angel humor thrown in for good measure -- like when he interrupts the glorious flow of his mellifluent melody in "Happy Days" to insert four bars of Roger Miller's "Born Free" into the most poignant section. Another of his signatures is that while in the middle of a structured song, move it into a different genre or style while keying in on its timbral revelations. For instance, on "Hijen Voor Eeen Ander," which holds within it one of the great swinging piano blues in 40 years, he adds no less than 20 measures of serial improvisation, changing both harmony and interval, then restructuring the melody according to a mutant chromatic counterpoint and relocating from the lower register to the top of the middle, all within the blink of an eye. While it's true he eventually returns the piece to its melody and register, it's not without some of the changes inserted becoming staples of its body. Indeed, Cuypers has called himself a "cocktail of fear and pleasure," and that's exactly what he is here -- at least for the audience. His melodic structures are so intricate and full of emotional transcendence, they are reminiscent of Mozart (no exaggeration); the jazz musician in him seeks the seamless whole where rhythm, harmony, and melody come together to form some beautiful thing from musical ether, and the improviser in him is a child who wants to muck up everything. It makes his recordings nail biting -- though exquisite and gorgeous -- rides through the mind of a musical savant. Brilliant and maddening.

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