According to notes I received with this CD, Joey Calderazzo has been listening to pre-bop pianists since the issue of his first solo piano album Haiku not long back. Presumably the list includes names less famous than Nat “King” Cole, insufficiently recognized as a very great jazz pianist, and it would have been nice if other senior masters—without separate fame as vocalists—could have been named. Is the public put off by names not generally recognized?
On Haiku. this at times stunningly brilliant band pianist plainly lacked awareness of the longer solo piano tradition, the foundations of solo piano jazz, and here he sounds rather more together.
After, notably, Bud Powell in the mid-1940s developed linear piano improvisation with the right hand, relying on bassist and drummer to provide the complex support almost impossible to solo, a considerable number of band or trio pianists simply didn’t work out any way of performing solo at anything much above ballad tempo, far less swinging. Pianists who never possessed either Nat Cole or Powell’s great pianistic powers, armed with command of older styles, did however have extra resources of expression and idiomatic technique, which they could adapt to more modern solo approaches, and even use for extra colouring in trio or band work.
Since Calderazzo’s publicity material and performances with rhythm do deliberately raise expectations, it’s hard not to be a bit severe. While his “Midnight Voyage” starts the set well, with reminiscences of the solo procedures of Lennie Tristano, he still doesn’t seem at ease playing solo in the studio. “Toonay” seems too nearly tangled, and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” suffers from an excessively busy left hand. When Dave McKenna played numbers like this one, he stayed relaxed, dragging, slurring or drawling with the left hand, making more use of timing. Likewise Tristano, when he played solo, with his more labyrinthine lines. Calderazzo’s effort to maintain forward impetus with a legit technique does at times push the left hand ahead of the beat, and even of the right hand. The result’s not bad, but it’s not wonderful.
He is, of course, more at home at slower tempo, where he achieves delicacy and atmosphere with an approach that could terrify lesser musicians. How does he do it? The late Michael Brecker’s “Sea Glass” is spectacularly beautiful, and in solo or duo accompaniment to Claudia Acuna’s singing, or in instrumental duo with Romero Lubamba (Calderazzo’s “The Lonely Swan” is a sublime melody), his great virtues are plain. The solo fantasia on Bill Evans’s “Waltz for Debbie” sets aside the theme’s 3/ 4 rhythm, and is encouragingly untidy. He’s definitely going somewhere, and has no reason to regret the very worthy ambition his venture as solo performer represents. But his work shouldn’t be over-hyped. He’s not quite there yet. This is a set of mixed quality quite simply because Calderazzo isn’t tied to routine. When he does something much above acceptable, it’s often treasurable.
(P.S. Years ago, I saw on television the opening of a supposed tribute to Nat Cole, introduced by a famous crooner who seemed to have been influenced by Cole’s singing. After hearing the statement that “at first, Nat was just a piano player,” meaning that only his singing was special, I turned off. Cole would never have been “just a piano player,” even if he’d never sung a note; nor is Joey Calderazzo just anything!)