Ballad was chosen by three reviewers among their top picks for 2001:
Karayorgis is a stealthy pianist. The gist of his music is often only implied,
especially when he employs the slow and medium-slow tempi that dominate Blood
Ballad. A phrase trails off into silence; a sustained note lingers like fog;
a chord is blown out like a candle. Such moments mix slowburn jazz noir intensity
and a tentative, even fumbling vulnerability with unerring cogency. While
Karayorgis's surfaces invite comparisons with Ran Blake and Misha Mengelberg,
melancholy undercurrents of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn give the album
much of its emotional impetus. Remotely related to Ellington's "Frustration",
"Centennial" veers from alluring, bluesy lines to the faux awkwardness
of phrases voiced in seconds to create a subtle emotional tension. The Strayhorn
inspired title piece teeters between tenderness and desolation, its theme
thick with sighs and gasps. Both tracks are fine starting points for examining
the sensitive interplay of Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Randy
Peterson. If you thought the jazz piano trio format had atrophied long ago,
"Skid Into The Turn" opens the set with the bristling staccato shapes
commonly associated with Anthony Braxton's music of the 70s. Even when a gentler
attack and hints of a walking tempo hold sway, as on Karayorgis's "SBL",
the thematic materials have an acute angularity that makes Giuffre's music
quaint by comparison. Additionally, Karayorgis, McBride and Vandermark also
delve into spry neo cool on such rewarding tracks as McBride's "27 Valentine"
and Vandermark's "Let Me Know", the latter benefiting from the composer's
smoldering tenor On these tracks, Karayorgis's study of Tristano's music is
most readily apparent in his rhythm, which is effortlessly smooth despite
choppy accents and dense voicings; and, like Tristano, he uses rhythm to stir
get straight to the point: this is an impressive record. Enjoyable and satisfying
too. Karayorgis' chops are undoubtedly robust, as he proves up front with
the vaguely Cecil Taylorish "Cracks", but what holds the attention
overall is the air of deep thoughtfulness. Sorry to lapse into the old "sounds
like" routine, but it saves time and wordage, and making a comparison
with Paul Bley, particularly the ESP sessions, gives a fair idea of what to
expect. The title track seems to suggest a link - Bley performed Annette Peacock's
"Blood" many times but is, in fact, a tribute to Billy Strayhorn,
the reference being to "Blood Count" I guess. As it happens, several
titles have the Bley flavor, though some could equally well be by Monk, another
well-absorbed and creatively transformed influence.
Blood Ballad doesn't make such an immediate impact, maybe because Pandelis Karayorgis is a less Iyrical player, and the chords he uses are altogether more pungent and less directional than those used by Takase. His syntax is knottier, too. Sometimes it's a little difficult to determine what he's getting at. That's only a problem if you want music that makes no demands on you as a listener, that sets out to do nothing but ingratiate. Karayorgis promises, and delivers, more than that. This is his fourth album for Leo, the second with this tightly knit, well-balanced trio. I remember giving the trio's first CD release, Heart and Sack, a very favorable write-up in an earlier edition of Avant. My good opinion of the disc hasn't changed, and I suspect that Blood Ballad will also stand the test of time.
Monk is obviously as important to Karayorgis as he is to Takase,
but Lennie Tristano's recontextualised melodies, and his use of pulse, can
occasionally be detected on Blood Ballad. I must stress that Karayorgis (Takase,
too, for that matter) doesn't merely ape his heroes, he absorbs elements of
their music into his own and always makes something new. There are a couple
of direct references to the Strayhorn/Ellington axis, and a gnarled and nagging
version of Coltrane's 'One Up, One Down'. Drummer Randy Peterson and double
bass player Nate McBride gravitate around the themes, and the statements they
make fit well with Karayorgis's rather introspective playing style. This is
the kind of trio that makes you think jazz is still a growing music, a music
with great potential.
Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis plays rippling, harmonically-ambiguous lines replete with blues and self-reflection. His accompanists—bassist Nate McBride and drummer Randy Peterson—are longtime associates of both the Maneris and Joe Morris, and they confirm Karayorgis as the leading pianist in their vein of inquisitive, cerebral, yet pretty jazz.
Because of limited dynamics and lack of emphatic melodies or
peaks, one listens for the interstitial interactions between the musicians
rather than the total shape, and these are incredibly sensitive and poised.
People who find Paul Bley's recent work 'samey' should check this out. BW
***(*) (…) the reconvened trio that captures the attention on Blood Ballad. It's a tighter and more organized album than the first, and there are no reference points apart from the closing version of Coltrane's 'One Up, One Down', which might be taken from a Marilyn Crispell session were it not so punchy and Monkian. The opening sequence of 'In The Cracks Of Four' and 'Blood Ballad' probably represents Pandelis's best moments on record and a very good place to start exploring his music.
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