Peter Madsen

Prevue of Tomorrow
Playscape Recordings PSR#061705

Rejecting the simplistic sequence of modern jazz piano history, Peter Madsen’s 50th birthday present to himself is a 10-track solo disc that confirms his mastery of the idiom while expanding the pantheon of keyboard luminaries.

A perceptive interpreter, Wisconsin-born Madsen ignores the easy route of honoring the perpetual – and perpetuated – contemporary piano icons: Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, even Thelonious Monk. Instead, the pianist, who currently splits his time between New York and Höchst, Austria and who has played with musicians as different as tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and bassist Mario Pavone, pays tribute to an unexpected cast of characters.

Madsen’s honorees rage from generally accepted elder statesmen such as Lennie Tristano, Randy Weston, Mal Waldron and Muhal Richard Abrams, to quirky schools-unto-themselves like Herbie Nichols and Cecil Tayor, as well as virtual blips on the jazz radar screen like Hasaan Ibn Ali and Richard Twardzik.

Twardzik, who O.D.ed in the 1950s while touring with Chet Baker, and the reclusive Ibn Ali, who made one LP under Max Roach’s auspices in the 1960s, are quirky originals whose multi-shifting compositions reveal new facets each time they’re played. That’s what Madsen does here. On Twardzik “Girl from Greenland” the pianist tinkles sharp tones in the piano’s nose-bleed register then lets the reflective textures develop into full-fledged rococo solipsism. Three-quarters of way through, this flashing and flailing turns to refined organic patterning with extended note clusters and prudent, reflective vibrations.

More playful, Ibn Ali’s “Three-Four vs. Six-Eight-Four-Four Ways” calls on Madsen’s skill in negotiating ever-shifting time signatures, which he pulls off while leaping from the piano’s squeakiest high notes to its moderated middle tones. All the while he creates variation on the themes, which themselves resemble a recasting of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and melodious two-handed Swing figures.

Nichols’ now classic “The Third World”, which was as prescient in its politics as its structure when written in 1947, is a modernist composition dependent as much on tremolo note clusters as advanced chord layering. Scherzo, Madsen brings out the composer’s sly romanticism and rhythmic sense without becoming a cynosure, wending his way to the climax with pile-driver patterning in the piano’s lowest register.

Taylor’s early “Rick Kick Shaw” and Weston’s “Blues for Africa” bring forth similar vehement interpretations, added to the force with which he plays the Nichols composition. However the more traditional Weston piece features thick, high intensity blues sequences that transform into the waterfalls of pitter-patterning notes and append double-gaited, stop-time asides that are as portamento as they are staccato. An apprentice work from 1956, “Rick Kick Shaw” inspires Madsen to strum perpetually contrasting dynamics, working the keys into varied cascading note clusters and passing tones. Playing hopscotch with the notes, he eases the thematic groupings into agitated kinetic runs.

In contrast to all this, Abrams’ “The Bird Song” is an essay in distant vibrations, all struck, plucked, stroked and pulled from the piano soundboard’s resonating internal strings as well as from blunt smacks to the instrument’s backframe, case and trusses.

A description of each tune, whether it’s atmospheric, dramatic or sensitive could be elucidated in even greater detail. Suffice it to say that Prevue of Tomorrow is one of the most memorable solo CDs of the past few years. Glenn Gould’s fame lies in his interpretation of Bach and other high culture icons of so-called serious music. Madsen has enough skill and technique to do the same for the icons of improvised music.

This disc and his celebration of Monk’s Music [Sphere Essence: Another Side of Monk (Playscape Recordings PSR#J010303)], could be two parts of a series. Another disc could be consecrated to Cecil Taylor’s contemporary lines; yet another could reinterpret European Free Music themes by slightly older pianists such as Fred Van Hove, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Misha Mengelberg and Giorgio Gaslini. But that’s only a suggestion. The future is Madsen’s call.

At the half century mark, he appears capable of doing whatever he wishes to set his mind to and can express with his fingers.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Boo 2. Subterfuge 3. Three-Four vs. Six-Eight-Four-Four Ways 4. The Bird Song 5. The Third World 6. Rick Kick Shaw 7. A Portrait of the Living Sky 8. Blues for Africa 9. The Girl from Greenland 10. Leave Me

Personnel: Peter Madsen (piano)