Friday, May 7, 2021

Pianist Noah Haidu continues to apply his own style to that of revered pianists

Last year, there was "Doctone," a much-admired tribute album devoted to Kenny Kirkland as a composer.

Noah Haidu shows how personal and fresh paying tribute can be.

That allowed Noah Haidu to effect an homage that gave free rein to his own manner of jazz piano.  This time around, a new recording is another oblique way of avoiding mimicry: Haidu honors Keith Jarrett by revealing how inspiring the retired pianist's trio style has been for him, especially when playing standards.

Kirkland, whose most notable late-career association was with Branford Marsalis, died at 43 of congestive heart failure in 1998; Jarrett, who turns 76 tomorrow, has announced his retirement after suffering two strokes. In "Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett" (also a Sunnyside release), Haidu pares the assisting personnel down to bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart and eschews electronics. 

The sidemen get some compositional exposure, with Hart's "Lorca" being the most impressive, enfolding the disc's best distribution of solos. On this track, Williams breaks free of occasional intonation problems that dog his fat sound in "Rainbow/Keith Jarrett," the disc's most explicit tribute to the honoree after "Slowly," Naidu's reflective, unaccompanied salute to Jarrett. The bassist's best solo comes in the disc finale, the evergreen "But Beautiful."

Soft and slow, the performance shows the virtues of not overdoing it when a melody is as firmly expressive as Jimmy Van Heusen's. It needs no heightening of intensity, but rather steady restraint and whole-hearted ensemble engagement. Even more winning, the trio's interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind" shows the trio to be expressively of one mind. 

The disc's other standard, "What a Difference a Day Makes," reaches out for that intensity, though a long outchorus and coda successfully avoid the temptation to go full Oscar Peterson. This indicates that Haidu's familiarity with jazz piano's historic breadth doesn't mean he has to parade it; a brief quotation of "I'm  Beginning to See the Light" is sufficient. What remains is an evocation of Jarrett's best manner of going deep more than wide.

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