"It comes as something of a shock to realize that over a decade has passed since Laszlo Gardony's last trio recording. The Hungarian-bom, Boston-based pianist has hardly been idle, having spent the intervening years performing solo (as captured most impressively on his previous Sunnyside release, Changing Standards) and in quartets and quintets (including an unusual configuration of the latter that included electric guitar, fretless electric bass and two percussionists). Of late, he has been heard most often in a duo with woodwind wizard Stan Strickland, and in support of vocalist Shelley Neill. Yet trio is the setting in which most of us became acquainted with Gardony, and is the instrumentation that by his own admission provided something of a professional epiphany.
"There was a moment in 1984," he recalls, "about a year after I had come to the US to study at Berklee College, when I had to give a concert of my own. Stomu Takeishi, who went on to work with Henry Threadgill, was the bass player, and Aaron Scott, who later became a regular in
McCoy Tyner's trio, was the drummer. At that point, the music expressed a lot of hope and a lot of hardship, and you didn't know which way it would ultimately go. I felt the same ambivalence about the concert; but I gave myself totally to the music, and Stomu and Aaron did as well.
That really opened something up for me. Other great experiences followed, with people like Miroslav Vitous, Dave Holland and Dave Liebman, but that was the transforming moment."
From there, Gardony has worked hard at giving himself more totally to his art. "I didn't get to that point without commitment," he emphasizes, and dial commitment his only been redoubled as he went about testing and refining his instincts, while "practicing life as well as music," as he puts it. This process has not been as thoroughly documented as has the learning curve of several lesser musicians, since Gardony does not subscribe to the record-at-all-costs strategy of some. "I don't just make records to make records," he insists; but his deep focus has brought him to the point at which his strung foundation in the music of his homeland (he was a student, after all. at the Bela Bartok Conservatory) has merged with nearly two decades the jazz life into a conception that is unique without sounding exotic. "Personality, is a bigger thing than some licks or altered harmonies." he says. "It's a total package." So is this album, which is also a major step forward in the pianist's career.
Gardony laughed when I suggested that the ease with which he expresses himself in these performances indicates that he has lost his accent, so to speak. "The ideas just happen more naturally now," he countered. "’Behind open Doors’ employs complex tempos, 7/8 and 9/8, but it flows; and the harmonic touches of Messiaen and other contemporary composers made their way into 'Round Midnight' without planning. I think the compositions have reached another stage as well. They come to me orchestrally, melody and harmonies all at once."
With maturity, Gardony has moved beyond mere self-expression to communication, a distinction often lost when the goal is originality at all costs. "There are certain things you play for yourself, and other things that connect to the wider experience we all share." is the way he puts it, citing his composition "The March of 1848" as an example. "The piece was commissioned for the I50th anniver- the Hungarian revolution," he explains. "I went back and listened to a lot of folk music; then I just improvised for hours, and the piece emerged. Some of the improvising was quite personal, but some had more. It got to my essence, essence, which is what is really worth sharing."
Uncovering that essence brought him back to the trio format. "The music needed that kind of freedom," he explains, "the chemistry you get in a good trio. And after years of not playing trio, I felt comfortable. I could play my melodies and assert my groove, without the need to simplify. I don't experiment in the studio - I bring the best ideas that I've developed, then look for the magic moments that make jazz special. And doing it with John and Jamey was completely comfortable."
It would be hard to imagine a better fit for
Gardony's music than bassist John Lockwood and drummer Jamey Haddad. Like the pianist, they are respected teachers who excel in both traditional and iconoclastic settings. Lockwood goes back with Gardony to his late-eighties trios, and is best known as a partner with George Garzone and Bob Gullotti in Boston's legendary free-form trio The Fringe. Haddad's mastery of hand percussion as well as trap drams has made him central to the recent efforts of both Dave Liebman (who introduced Haddad to Gardony) and Paul Simon. "John and Jamey like to play together," Gardony reports. "They have the right balance between the ability to play a challenging composition well and the joy of just creating. And besides being great musicians, they love music as a whole. They listen to all kinds and look for the magic in each."
The program for this disc was chosen to highlight the magic that Gandony, Lockwood and Haddad make together, and it flows with a most organic logic. The optimistic ambience of the opening "Come with Me" ("A way to open the door for listeners, so we can proceed to open doors together," Gardony says) leads to the muscular snap applied to Monk's evergreen, and the sly swing of "The other one" sets up the deep beauty of the title track. Bowed bass and free tempo give an appropriate cast to "Mystical," and the march reveals elements of dance with an assist from Haddad's hand drums; then the moods set-tie in the bittersweet swing of "There Will Never Be Another You" and the more contemplative "Blue in Green." While the format is venerable, each track is more about expanding upon than wallowing in the trio tradition. "We're not trying to be something already defined," as Gardony puts it. "we're becoming something of our own."
What they have become is an exceptional jazz trio, led by a musician who, after too long an absence, asserts himself as an exceptional trio pianist." - Bob Blumenthal
Reviews"...While the format is venerable, each track is more about expanding upon than wallowing in the trio tradition. 'We're not trying to be something already defined,' as Gardony puts it, 'we're becoming something of our own.'