There are some among the great unwashed who scurrilously suggest that there is Keith Jarrett in Kevin Hays. And while the now eminence gris of piano may have been grist for his grinding, in his early days, Kevin Hays is over that, long over that and North proves that almost beyond doubt. The “almost” is because there are fleeting moments on this disc when one hears a whispered phrase in the minds ear that might take one to A Jarrett-painted soundscape. But these moments are, indeed so fleeting that they almost don’t matter for it is hard to escape the imposing presence of Jarrett in piano music. However, here’s where Kevin Hays ploughs his own furrow:
Once he gets going, which is almost always as he flies out of the gates, he unlike the proverbial horse, galloping forward and onward at a derby. But if I may indulge in the equine imagery for a moment more, Kevin Hays resembles more a horse performing a dressage routine. It never really gallops, but trots, canters, side-steps, arches and jumps, but often the prelude to each movement – and sometimes the perennial one as well – is a dance move that will have even the uninitiated riveted to the television and to that creature on the screen. It is the same with Kevin Hays. To understand better how this sounds one has only to spin North. Right off the bat is Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”, a song that even dyed-in-the-wool Birdologists would find hard to sing. The rhythm requires decoding and singing both at break-neck speed. So try on this Kevin Hays version for size. Getting the feet in a knot is a distinct possibility.
The wait for “Violetta”, the Kevin Hays tribute to Violetta Parra, the Chilean nightingale. The song opens in a fascinating rhythm, already with an almost indecipherable pulse contrived by Rob Jost on ukulele and drummer Greg Joseph virtually simply ‘hanging around’. And before you know it Hays launches into his 5/4 rhythm, which is when the song deploys fully and as a deeply-felt elegy. Other impressive rhythmic entanglements include “All Things Are”, a mind-bending re-working of the standard “All The Things You Are”. The ghosts of both Leadbelly andRavel are awakened with “Where Did You Sleep Tonight” – the legendary bluesman still keeper of the scale, but the Impressionist invoked to alter the mood from blue to questing. Probably (for me at any rate) the definitive version of the song, “I’ll Remember April” is one that Bud Bowell played on Charles Mingus’ iconic recording Charles Mingus Live With Eric Dolphy (BYG Records, 1974); Mingus At Antibes (in its incarnation on Atlantic, 1976).
On North Kevin Hays slows its tempo of “I’ll Remember April” down, adding new, varied colours and textures in the rhapsodic flourishes that flavour the odd phrase in the melody. Keys change ever so gently yet frequently through the piece. And then there are the beautiful, balletic pirouettes which inform the filigreed motifs that propel the music onward and upward as the music becomes more ecstatic. The piece is superbly transformed as it becomes a perfect segue in to the album’s dénouement – “Morning” which entrances with its dewy transparency;the perfect close to a memorable performance.
Track List: Scrapple From The Apple; Elegia; Violetta; Schumann’s Chamisso; Sweet Caroline; Where Did You Sleep; All Things Are; North; I’ll Remember April; Morning.
Personnel: Kevin Hays: piano; Rob Jost: bass, ukulele; Greg Joseph: drums.