Eyran Katsenelenbogen: 88 Fingers

Eyran Katsenelenbogen, who claims Felix Mendelssohn in his family tree, plays solo piano like no one in jazz. His music is a wildly eclectic fantasia, with dizzying runs of ornamentation whirling at warp speed, spin-offs and digressions intruding upon and finally overwhelming sober classical structures, and jarring lurches from treble whispers to bass chord crashes. What Katsenelenbogen plays is music, as opposed to gymnastics. He ties each outrageous outpouring into a coherent whole and lands on his feet, even if his bravura knows no bounds.

Katsenelenbogen is all about shock and awe. The listener takes cover and stands back, waiting to see what particular feats a given song will inspire. “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” usually played by jazz musicians as a passionate protest, is here a technical inquiry into how vast a musical tapestry can be woven from a single melody. “Those Were the Days,” that fluff of nostalgia, becomes so triumphant and imposing Rachmaninoff might have written it. “The Summer Knows,” Michel Legrand’s sweet and gentle celebration of soft air and light, runs into a summer storm of tremolos.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.