This very, very young pianist is being given the sort of treatment which might seem like hype. The reason why it isn’t hype is that he knows what he’s doing. Unlike some other alleged new stars, and even veterans rediscovering older jazz, this guy doesn’t sound as if he’s doing or trying to do things which are too new to him. Some players’ enthusiasms for new ventures are based on finding how easy it is, without realizing that it’s easy because they ain’t doin’ it right!
He’s no flash player, but expressive, and duly relegates any thought of technical display. He has better things to do. There’s less immediate evidence of precocious brilliance than there is with guitar prodigy Julian Lage, his partner on some tracks of this CD, then 17 years old (Eigsti was all of 21!). You don’t need to know Lage’s age, though, to be bowled over by his playing, and his range. It would seem that the producers of this set have even forgotten his age, in their including him among testimonials given to the pianist, four years older but still very young, as lions go.
On the one hand, a veteran pianist was saying to me lately, there’s all this hype; on the other there are these young guys whose abilities defy credibility. This set doesn’t quite make the case for Eigsti’s belonging to the second group, but it does give some basis to the claims made.
Eigsti hits cleanly, decisively. The beginning of this set, “Giant Steps”, shows concern for precision of timing, with the excellent support of Christian McBride on bass, and also with an expressive rather than flowery line. The pianist’s own “Get Your Hopes Up” is a contemporary or recent-dated theme, with Lage joining the Eigsti-McBride-Lewis Nash trio. The speed is fast medium and the delivery impassioned. There’s more incisive-decisive timing and delivery, and a more strong direct line, in a “Love for Sale” that’s opened by McBride’s double bass, somewhat boogaloo.
James Genus replaces McBride and Billy Kilson Nash on a number of titles, starting on Björk’s “I’ve Seen It All”, incisive but tender with a couple of horns possibly, gently (nearly silently?) augmented by the uncredited electronic keyboard which surfaces briefly later. “I’ve Seen it All” is post-Rachmaninov, a kind of concerto movement. Eigsti’s “Argument” follows with some reminiscence of the performance on the Björk tune, Lage added and adding colour, and a vibes-bells passage on some electronic keyboard. “True Colors” is a duet between Eigsti and Lage, composer-credited to both and building to a climax, followed by tenderness. Since Chester Burnett is quoted at the head of a list of composers (how many fellahs does a tune need in order to get written?) one supposes this blues bumping and riffing is on a theme lifted from him, which is to say from the great bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, with brass added along the same lines as on the last singles recordings Wolf made for his old market. Lage has, as ever, some interesting things to add on guitar, even blues guitar, but while trading in excitement Eigsti doesn’t develop this one that much in jazz terms.
“Promenade” goes past the Great Gate at Kiev, or did so when it was the opening Picture at an Exhibition of Moussorgski. McBride and Nash assist with that art of extended interesting introductions with which this CD began. McBride solos interestingly on “Adventure One”, which does bear some resemblance to “Promenade”. Genus and Kilson are back for the somewhat oblique “Darn that Dream”, with an intro paraphrasing and reharmonising the theme. The more delicate playing (Eigsti plainly has much refinement in touch, when needed) is at one point on the verge of breaking out into something more loudly impassioned. The performance, however, becomes quieter and dark, even a little chilly, and finally orchestral.
Kilson shows his own subtle side before Eigsti thunders into “Freedom Jazz Dance”, on which he alternates between brooding passages and bouts of almost ‘get out of the way!’ forcefulness. No incoherence and no old-tyme avant-garde, Eigsti’s hefty playing enters a heavyweight mode in which Kilson also joins before reminding me why I sat up in my chair the first time I heard him live. Heavyweight Russian piano school influences are certainly on show again, as they had been, and prominently, before. They re-merge after the tender opening to the solo rendition of the title tune, Bernstein’s “Lucky to Be Me” (itself arguable as an expression of luck in one’s situation, and therefore gratitude, or even as of arrogance). It’s an interesting example of the pedaled clarity within what’s clearly a prodigious and by no means calm endowment. I don’t know yet “how good he is,” but the young man heard here certainly has considerable presence.