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Kevin Hays: Open Range

The German ACT label recently launched a solo piano series called Piano Works. Joachim Kühn (No. 1 in the series) and George Gruntz (No. 2) got the project off to a promising start, and the sonic quality of the recordings has been exceptional. Kevin Hays’ Open Range (third in the series) is the most adventurous effort to date, but the most uneven.

Hays aggressively pursues the creative opportunities offered by current studio recording technology. He employs voice (including his own) and string samples and overdubs to create an expanded canvas of possibilities for a solo-piano session. He sometimes achieves striking effects, like “Homestead” and “Humming Bird Song,” where imported sounds add depths of dimension to both foreground and background. “Meditation” is also intriguing, with its dark, droning single chordal center and samples of gently distorted voices.

But Hays’ piano playing itself has an odd, insular, baroque quality in its disparate ornamentation. His intellectual decisions about note choices, often ponderously adagio, create abstract designs full of long digressions. They make listening feel more like homework than fun.

Still, in its genuine sense that anything might happen at any moment, this album keeps you curious. The news that the ACT label is considering discontinuing the distribution of its Piano Works series in the United States is unwelcome.

Originally Published