Without a whole lot of fanfare, the Hungarian-born, Boston-based pianist and educator Laszlo Gardony has gone about his business of churning out one compelling, swinging CD after another over the course of 25 years. His fifth for the Sunnyside label and ninth overall again features his longstanding rhythm tandem of bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel. Together they celebrate the birthplace of culture and sound with a program of African-based musical styles. From his mesmerizing 13-bar original “On African Land” to an exuberant, gospel-tinged take on the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” (with nods to Les McCann along the way) and the Professor Longhair-inspired “Bourbon Street Boogie,” featuring bar-walking contributions from guest tenor saxophonist Stan Strickland, everything here can be traced back to the African musical heritage.
A clever arranger and thoughtful composer—his reflective “Under the Sky,” featuring Israel overdubbing on vibraphone, is a highlight—Gardony is also a formidable soloist who lives in the moment. And he often demonstrates, as on the elegant, samba-flavored “With You at the Bridge,” a willingness to detour off the expected path with some improvisational daring that follows its own course. His mastery of the postbop idiom is also represented on a swinging rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Johnny Come Lately,” featuring Strickland on tenor and Lockwood stretching out with an exceptional, woody-toned bass solo.
Perhaps the most surprising and original track here is “Spirit Dance,” which evolves gradually with Strickland’s wafting wordless vocals providing a shaman’s touch. It’s just one more engaging surprise on a diverse album full of them.