Live at Grasland
Drimala DR-04-347-01

Forever associated with ESP-Disk, the 1960s New Thing and the Jazz Composers Guild, pianist Burton Greene’s prowess as an expressive composer and pianist have been given short shift by many jazzers. Hopefully this solo CD’s varied and exciting program will go some way towards redressing this situation.

Greene, who has spent most of his time since 1969 living in Europe also teaches Jewish and Balkan Jazz at Amsterdam’s Muziekschool. Here an exposure to his Eastern European roots through Klezmer and associations with sardonic Dutch musical chameleons such as drummer Han Bennink and reediest William Breaker has added an unexpected, swinging melodiousness to the fire-breathing recklessness he exhibited in earlier associations with Free Jazzers like drummer Sunny Murray.

Sylosophy (Digitalville)”, for instance, features jumping polytonalism as he sluices al over the keys. Moving uneven patterns back and forth, his hands produce simultaneous, opposing lines — chamber music fantasia in one and rent party honky tonk in the other. With some near-ragtime, accelerated chording and vibrating tremolos, he glides up and down the scale until a walking bass line produces deep tones that are expanded and speed up to player piano movements. Coda is more characteristic slurred fingering and exhibitionistic crescendos. Meanwhile, despite its hippie era title, “A Cozy Winter Veggy Soup” is an uptempo jazz waltz, build on effortless fortissimo swing. Featuring treble glissandos and a jaunty bass countermelody, it ends with harmonic concordance from each hand.

Or take the frisky “Gnat Dance”. Built around portamento slurred fingering and individual key bounces, a boogie-woogie section soon becomes double and triple syncopated. Ranging over the keys, ruffling them at appropriate moments, Greene springs back to complete a phrase with an errant note, using body English that owes as much to Chico Marx as Thelonious Monk. At the end, double-timed bottom runs give way to dissonant chords and cascading note clusters.

A composer, not a phrase expander, Greene constructs his tunes in definite sections, a technique most obvious on his almost 16½-minute “South Florida Odyssey Suite” in two parts — “12,733 Shopping Malls” and “Florida Summer Odyssey”. There are times on the former when, as elsewhere, he seems to be playing a polyrhythmic version of a Broadway show tune. That’s in the later half of the piece, where it proceeds suggestions of a 19th century waltz and a false ending with the “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits” beat. Final cadences include tremolos and glissandos, which relate to earlier, quick-fingered child-like melodies that mock consumerism.

Expanding the motif, “Odyssey” uses a tango-like rhythm and a jerky circus melody to dramatically reprise the polyrhythmic theme, then pedal pressure to outline a new splayed-fingered romantic fantasia. As these moderato tones calm the previously frantic rhythms, the tune hymns the unexposed, pacific beauty that still exists in some parts of Florida.

Stately too is Greene’s solo piano version of long-time associate clarinetist Perry Robinson’s “Angels”. Light fingered, Greene creates a gentle curlicue motion that bounces, jumps and decorates the patterns with different pitch and tempo configurations. Following a bluesy mid section, the pianist downshifts to glissandos and two handed pumps, ending with sharp spinning ratchet cracks and finger cymbal peals.

Like Robinson and trombonist Roswell Rudd, Greene, 67, is another of the still vibrant first generation avant players whose contributions are too often minimized. A fine effort like this one, available at www.drimala.com should give him more prominence.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Calistrophy 2. In the Footsteps of the Bratslav 3. Sylosophy (Digitalville) /South Florida Odyssey Suite: 4. 12,733 Shopping Malls 5. Florida Summer Odyssey 6. A Cozy Winter Veggy Soup 7. Gnat Dance 8. Angels

Personnel: Burton Greene (piano)