Not all piano recordings have to be treated as virtuoso demonstration vehicles… because not all piano playing is – or needs to be – virtuosic to be listened to with reverence and deeply felt. This is what the recording Opening by Chris Keefe is all about. Sane, dedicated, balanced playing such as what we hear on each of the seven pieces that make up its repertoire is always welcome, as is the clarity he brings to every texture. An essay that goes with the recording informs us that this is a debut record 25 years in a manner of speaking, since the pianist emerged from the New England Conservatory. Hard-won expressivity and ability show in the brevity of elegant statement that the pianist invokes to keep the listeners’ attention always riveted to the music.
Some comparisons with other pianists are also made. This suggests that whenever – and wherever – he is heard, he is also rated highly for his technical ability and for the fact that his playing always leaves a positive impression on audiences. Listening to the music of Opening there is undoubtedly verve and poetry here. This is coupled with an ability to communicate – with a degree of elegant dalliance – both imagery and emotion. Mr Keefe’s voicing of texture is always intelligent. Moreover, aided and abetted by the graceful harmonics and rhythmic propulsion of the inimitable contrabassist Harvie S and by the colours of percussion colourist extraordinaire Adam Nussbaum, an effectively orchestral sound ensues from this humble trio.
Mr Keefe’s choice of repertoire here, is a judicious mix of familiar and original [and therefore unfamiliar] work. On familiar songs – Along Came Betty is glorious – repertoire Mr Keefe’s sound – his melodic execution – is more resonant and bell-like, often tending towards astringency, but very much painted in oils. His temperament is stately and his rubato noble – while others tend to be more imperious. His sense of humour and puckishness also show on Got a Chick? and on Chobim.
All this combines to give the feeling that Mr Keefe’s musicianship leans towards a more civilized worldview of popular music. This makes it so much easier to take every note he plays, every phrase he utters and every line that he sings to heart. And that is something most musicians yearn for in their quest for the Holy Grail of musical expression.
Music – 1: Got a Chick? 2: Modern; 3: Along Came Betty; 4: I Fall in Love too Easily; 5: Just in Time; 6: Chobim; 7: Dream
Musicians – Chris Keefe: piano; Harvie S: contrabass; Adam Nussbaum: drums
Released – 2023
Label – Zugwangbebop Records [ZR1001]
Runtime – 45:21