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David Kikoski: Lighter Way

Ernest Hemingway once famously said that good writers need built-in crap detectors. The rule also applies to jazz musicians.

When I first put this album in my CD player and heard a synthesizer repeating cloying, twittering little melodies, I thought something was wrong. I thought I had loaded the wrong disc. This was supposed to be an album by David Kikoski, a highly capable pianist whose discography includes substantial recordings like Triangular 2 on Sirocco and Dave Kikoski on Epicure.

I had loaded the right CD, but something was indeed wrong. On “Blanket of Byrd” and the title track, Kikoski’s synthesizer is a device with the sonic significance of a child’s music box, a toy xylophone or a kazoo. On “Stigmata” and “Grey Area,” Kikoski uses his electronics to try to power up some funk, but his groove is generic. The acoustic “Florence’s Reverie” attempts to sober things up and build real feeling, but it is more grandiose than grand.

Kikoski’s eight original tunes (apparently in quest of a “lighter way”) are dumbed-down versions of the obvious. Yet on almost every track there are passages of undeniable agility, reminding us that very good piano players can make very bad albums when their crap detectors fail them.

Originally Published