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April 2008

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Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton formed mi3 as the house band for a series called MIM—“Modern Improvised Music”—that McBride curated in Boston. The group’s first album, We Will Make a Home for You, largely recorded in the storage room above a dry cleaner that had been converted into an art gallery, was electrifying, with Karayorgis playing, out of necessity, the Fender Rhodes electric piano. For their second album, Karayorgis switches to his main instrument, the acoustic piano, but the results are no less electric.

Karayorgis has absorbed and internalized the likes of Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp and probably plenty of other left-of-center pianists from across the generations. Bebop informs his style, but he trades in contrast and open space. Angular phrasings and sharp-edged chords define tunes like mi3’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s “The Mystery Song” and the Monk-inspired Karayorgis original “Fink Sink Tink,” and he gets a speedy workout on his “Case in Point,” both hands darting up and down the keys.

Newton rarely just taps out the rhythm, choosing instead to improvise against the implied beat, and McBride plays freer than many bassists would feel comfortable doing. On “Who Said What When,” each player seems to be doing his own thing, but then it all gels. No one is soloing per se; someone decides it’s go time, and the others step out of the way. When they decide to play it straight, they’re equally compelling.

Originally published in April 2008
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