While probably not one of the more essential titles in the Burton Greene discography, Variations on a Coffee Machine is a very enjoyable session recorded live at the Axis in Soho, New York. Pianist Greene is joined by tenor saxophonist Keshavan Maslak, a second-generation Ukrainian who grew up playing jazz as a youngster in Detroit. The first side of this LP -- more than likely the only format in which to find this material -- is unaccompanied piano. Greene performs two compositions co-written by Buma Stemra and either himself ("63rd and Cottage Grove") or Jamaluddin Bhurtiya ("Variations on a Raga Charukeshi"), as well as John Coltrane's "Naima." These tunes vary only slightly and, if not paying attention, one might not recognize when one ends and another begins. Take this not as a criticism, however. This music is definitely on the melodic side of the avant-garde, and is reminiscent of Jaki Byard in that Greene displays the ability to use dissonance and rapid percussive runs ornamentally and not as the basis of a piece. Greene exhibits the influence of the reflective Duke Ellington and sounds a great deal like McCoy Tyner on "Variations on a Raga Charukeshi," which at times sounds like Tyner's performance on John Coltrane's "Olé." The second side is comprised entirely of the freewheeling title track, during which he is joined by Maslak. The two appear as though they have a loose organizational structure for the piece, and have every intention of hitting different themes as they present themselves to the moment. This method is not unlike that exhibited later by the freewheeling Dutch Clusone Trio -- which should not prove too difficult to believe, as Maslak would move to Amsterdam the following year. All told, this is a fine record and -- while by no means of "audiophile" fidelity -- it sounds surprisingly good, given that it was recorded at a small club for release by a small label.
AllMusic Review by Brandon Burke
feat: Keshavan Maslak