Narada Burton Greene

Live at Kerrytown House
NoBusiness NBCD 39

By Ken Waxman

A free jazz survivor of the first order, pianist Burton Greene continues to turn out high- class music in his seventies. Chicago-born in 1937, Greene was in NYC for the birth of the so-called New Thing with a membership in the Jazz Composers Guild and several ESP-Disks as proof. Part of the wave of players who expatriated to Europe after 1969 Greene became a pioneer in mixing jazz improvisation with new age, electronic and Klezmer music. Yet as this 11-track live date, recorded in Ann Arbor in 2010 demonstrates, he’s never lost his pianistic facility. It’s as perfectly balanced as any of his earlier solo projects. Running through a couple of familiar themes and a handful of on-the-spot creations, the pianist highlights influences he’s synthesized to create his more-than-mature style.

Supple, energetic and never ponderous even when outlining a ballad, Greene’s playing is compelling and even droll, especially when he lopes along the keys during the three “Freebop” variations. Greene is a tunes man and performs his compositions in digestible portions. Original in conception, his affinity for Thelonious Monk’s angular phrasing and economic style is obvious on tracks like “Little Song”. Yet his playing has deep roots as well. Often, as on “Freebop the 6th”, Monkish singularity gives way to kinetic sequences of high-frequency syncopation, introducing boogie woogie and stride inferences. With an unbeatable sense of pacing, Greene gradually works his key strokes upwards as if climbing a ladder rung by rung; once at the top he figuratively dives off, creating unexpected and animated theme variations as he lands

Greene’s set list is studded with surprises and juxtapositions. Take “Get Through It” and “Space Is Still The Place” which follow one another. The tunes are respectively a pseudo-Tin Pan Alley ditty with heavy accents, and a stop-time exercise in how long a note can be held. The first mutates into a minimalist sound picture with additional staccato plinking; the second, with its Sun Ra-saluting title, eventually reveals another jolly, jerky theme.

“Greene Mansions” is the definitive Greene performance though. Played in free time with intermittent pauses, the bravura narrative allows him to slap the keys with one hand while exposing subterranean tremolos with the other. He minutely scrutinizes each tone and note cluster; refers to the theme intermittently and ends with distinctive key clipping.

Live at Kerrytown House is notable recital by a musician who continues to improvise at the height of his powers a half century after his first recording.

Tracks: Freebop the 4th; Tree; Freebop the 1st; Prevailence; Greene Mansions; Little Song; Elevation; Freebop the 6th; Don't Forget the Poet; Get Through It; Space Is Still The Place

Personnel: Burton Greene: piano

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2013