Though Narada Burton Greene's best-known work dates from when he was based in New York in the tempestuous heyday of free jazz, the pianist has recorded a sizeable body of work, and not just for piano, since he relocated to Amsterdam in the early '70s. Zephyr, released on Greene's own Button Nose imprint in 1983, gives a splendid overview of the musician's diverse activities of the period. On "Autumn Song," recorded live in France, he uses that European keyboard par excellence, the harpsichord, to create a predominantly modal tapestry that reveals a fondness for and understanding of everything from the Baroque repertoire to Bartók and Klezmer. Though harpsichords aren't normally associated with high-energy freakouts, Greene's subtle use of registration takes the venerable instrument to the limit. "When You're in Front, Get Off My Back," which Greene dedicates to "all the little people in this world," is one of the pianist's typically rambunctious exercises in offbeat stride and blues piano crossed with sporadic explosions of free jazz fisticuffs (plus some assorted explosions from percussion instruments placed inside and around the instrument). In a more lyrical vein, "Karasar Zeybegi," a traditional Turkish folk song -- Greene's interest in Turkish music dates back to his encounter with percussionist Okay Temiz in the early '70s and has remained strong ever since -- reveals the gentler side of Greene's pianism, from deceptively simple folk voicings to sparingly but effectively used touches of Debussyian impressionism. The album's title track, "Zephyr," is billed as a "wind suite in four movements." Wind as in element rather than instrumentation; emerging from the bowels of the piano (Greene was the first jazz pianist to play the innards of the instrument, it should be borne in mind), a haze of wind chimes and swept strings soon lead to some decidedly Romantic tremolo work (Liszt comes to mind). It's a perfect resumé of Greene's multidirectional activities, from disarmingly naïve folk-like material via wryly ironic (self) parody to all-out free-form explosion.
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