Joey Calderazzo,
(Rounder, 2004)

Joey Calderazzo has said that he listened to 15 solo albums -- everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Chick Corea -- before recording his own. The result is a romp through jazz piano history. Haiku incorporates everything from old-time, two-fisted stride-piano to modern deconstruction of old standards. And Calderazzo has the knowledge and technique needed to make it all work. I can see why his sometime boss, Branford Marsalis, was interested in producing the album. Calderazzo is an impressive player and composer.

Things kick off with a challenging original, "Bri's Dance." It's an up-tempo piece featuring aggressive rhythms in the left hand and fleet, toccata-like lines in the right. Many years ago, legendary pianist Lennie Tristano made a controversial recording with several tracks similar to "Bri's Dance." It caused a flap because, without indicating it in the album notes, Tristano had sometimes played at one tempo and then speeded the music up electronically to get the tempo he actually wanted. Some thought that was cheating. Calderazzo manages the blistering tempo and knotty cross-rhythms without an electronic assist.

The title tune, "Haiku," is also an original, this time showing the pianist's softer side. But rather than the tight, concise statement of a Japanese haiku, it's a leisurely, long-ruminating soliloquy, reminiscent of the improvisations of Keith Jarrett at his best. It's a beautiful tune, poetic indeed but more elegy than haiku.

"Chopin" is another romantic original, with a melody that does suggest that composer -- filtered through Erik Satie. It's a lovely, delicate and melancholy winner whatever the influence.

The first standard appears five tracks in. It's Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," a wonderful tune that allows Calderazzo to prove he can take an unusual approach to well-known music. He varies the tempo and style throughout the piece. Taking a pass on Porter's sophistication, he starts and ends with Jelly Roll Morton and treats us to modern pyrotechnics in between.

Monk gets a nod in another strong original, "Dancin' for Singles." The left hand hammers all the way in a jubilant performance.

The second of the two standards on the album is "My One & Only Love," played straight and with obvious affection. "Bri's Dance" gets a vigorous reprise to close things out and leave us wanting more.

The variety of obvious influences makes for an entertaining album, but it does leave me wondering which admired musician appeals most to Calderazzo. Perhaps next time out we'll hear a synthesis of styles into something more uniquely the pianist's own. In the meantime, I'm happy to recommend Haiku to fans of jazz piano. With its strong originals and talented playing, it's well worth a listen.

by Ron Bierman
17 March 2006

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