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Gregg Karukas: Nightshift

Gregg Karukas is one of those gifted pianists who can make it sound easy, flying through fleet-fingered, laid-back runs with equal parts sparkle and grace. Though Nightshift serves up his talent in a light urban-groove setting, only the glimpses of arrangement variety offered here prove equal to his gifts. The album is dominated by typically breezy midtempo pieces, like the sweet-toned title track and “Chasing the Wind,” which finds its lithe groove crowded with synth. The capable Karukas hits detailed licks dead-on on “Rocky Peak,” only to be washed out by a dull groove. These tracks are largely hooky tonics, which, though perfectly pleasant, fail to leave a lasting impression. Much more interesting is the fun swing-out “Speakeasy,” featuring bluesy keyboard over a bright horn section, and the lean, salsafied arrangement of “Small World,” with its electric piano and simmering, organic brass. Another standout is the gentle “Stevie (Wonderful),” highlighted by ringing electric piano and a percussive bite courtesy of Luis Conte-though it takes a little too long to get to the song’s tasty center: a Dino Soldo harmonica solo that evokes Wonder’s spirit. This imaginative arrangement embraces and enhances Karukas’ flawless fingerwork much more than the typical urbanscape.

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