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Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride: Let It

“Taking a Line For a Walk” is not only the title of Let It’s lead track, but an apt, near-definitive description of Pandelis Karayorgis’ approach to piano playing. He’s like a musical Slinky heading down a set of stairs, unpredictably shifting from slow, ponderous, fragmented, right-hand-only movement to furious, Cecil Taylor-like chases that slip, stumble and stretch all over the keyboard. Recorded informally in Karayorgis’ living room, Let It has the pianist and bassist Nate McBride using the informal setting to create joyful, avant explorations that celebrate freedom but never escalate to pure self-indulgent cacophony. McBride’s a perfect foil to Karayorgis: his fierce plucking sounds like flip-flops slapping against heels as he runs in the pianist’s footsteps.

More than just the harmonies suggest Karayorgis has Monk on the brain: he peppers the set with well-integrated but sometimes distracting snippets of Monk’s famous melodies. A nearly nine-minute version of “Criss-Cross” serves as a labyrinthine centerpiece, and during an all-too-short 30-second passage within, they’re almost playing straightahead: McBride’s strut is confident in 4/4 while Karayorgis plays the melody, each line eventually stumbling into charming Monkish discord. Even the most hardened nontraditionalists will at the very least tap their feet.

More manic, and with compositions more developed, is Blood Ballad, Karayorgis and McBride’s collection of undulating tunes with drummer Randy Peterson. The living room intimacy of Let It is replaced with an on-studio-time demeanor that hints more toward frustration than delight. But this is a good thing as it reveals anger in both the pianist and bassist’s playing, egged on by Peterson’s rolling, ominous brushwork and occasional dynamic outbursts. Karayorgis’ so-called Ellington homage, “Centennial,” lopes in an introspective manner before Peterson’s well-timed bass-drum kicks finally provoke the pianist into a short dissonant climax of clustered high notes. The compositions all belong to Karayorgis except for the last track, where the trio ditches the meditative passages altogether for an all-out tantrum on Coltrane’s “One Up, One Down.”

The human element that figures so strongly on Let It and Blood Ballad is disappointingly missing from No Such Thing, Karayorgis and McBride’s jaunt with reedist Ken Vandermark, recorded in 1999 and released two years later. The delay in the disc’s recording to its release could be attributed to any one of a number of reasons, but the whole angular shebang feels suspiciously tossed off, like the label needed a record and the trio happened to have an old tape. Karayorgis is less graceful and doesn’t take his lines for walks so much as he pokes through the compositions with block chords and brief, trivial phrases derivative of Monk. McBride whips out the bow on a few tracks, softening Vandermark’s persistent squawking to some degree, but ultimately cohesion and depth escape this trio.

Originally Published