Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The ins and outs of pianist Paul Giallorenzo

Posted By on 05.06.09 at 03:12 PM

Keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo (pictured), the driving force behind the crucial experimental-music space Elastic, has a lower profile than many of his cohorts on the local jazz and improvised-music scene. Part of the reason is logistical: He prefers to play a real piano, and aside from Elastic, most local venues presenting free jazz don't own one. I've seen him tote around an electronic keyboard, but the sound doesn't do him justice.

I'm also of the opinion that free improvisation isn't his strong suit. When he uses computer processing and electronics to create textural, drone-based music--as he does in Masul, his duo with Swiss reedist Thomas Mejer--he can really nail it, but in more straightforward improv settings he struggles a little. Though he's very skilled, he can be tentative when there's no score or no clear leader.

Yet as his brand-new album, Get In to Go Out (482 Music), makes abundantly clear, he's got other strengths. The album, recorded in 2005, features a terrific quintet--saxophonist Dave Rempis, cornetist Josh Berman, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Frank Rosaly--playing nine impressive original tunes. Repeated listens have opened up my ears; Giallorenzo's key inspirations go back five decades, but the way he evokes Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, and particularly early Cecil Taylor doesn't sound the last bit dated.

The spry arrangements are packed with tricky zigzagging lines and tart harmonies, and a swing feel dominates, though the compositions are hardly square or retro; this pushes the front-line players toward postbop gambits we don't always hear in their own work. There's plenty of solo space for each member, but I think Giallorenzo makes the most of his time--probably because he knows the tunes more intimately. He also does a terrific job vamping and making provocative interjections behind other soloists.

Not only does the local scene suffer from a shortage of pianos, it's got very few pianists playing improvised music (as opposed to straight jazz). Off the top of my head, there's Jim Baker and . . . Giallorenzo. That might help explain why I find this album so refreshing--but the biggest reason is that the music is superb.

Giallorenzo's quintet plays a CD-release party Thursday night at, natch, Elastic.

Today's playlist:

Cesaria Evora, Radio Mindelo (Lusafrica)
Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
Valerio Cosi, Collected Works (Porter)
Marcos Sacramento, A Modernidade da Tradição (Biscoito Fino)
Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners (Atlantic/Rhino)

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