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Harold Danko: Spring Garden (SteepleChase)

A review of the pianist's tribute to Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

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Harold Danko: Spring Garden
The cover of Spring Garden by Harold Danko.

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has been an obsession for Harold Danko for more than a half-century, as the pianist relates in the liner notes for Spring Garden, his tribute to the celebrated 1913 ballet score. On tour, Danko spent many hotel-room hours variously listening to the orchestral and piano versions and studying the associated scores. He was inspired to pursue his own spin on Stravinsky’s music after hearing the Bad Plus’ 2014 trio version.

Taking an approach that’s “impressionistic rather than literal,” Danko offers 10 interconnected original compositions, each of which makes reference to the piece that inspired this project. For the journey through these often free-minded passages, he’s joined by tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, co-leader of a quartet the two have helmed since the early ’90s, and their rhythm axis—bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Throughout, Stravinsky’s themes are interwoven with other sources, frequently providing a launching pad for artful improvisations.

A hurried six-note figure launches opener “Spring Winds,” and shortly thereafter Perry’s amber tones lead the way, shifting from gentle to more aggressive before ceding to Danko’s explorations. The sonic terrain is varied: “Envisage” is built on a grinding bass ostinato, while the initially pensive “Address Unknown” quickly slips into calypso territory with extensive open space for Anderson, and “Blossom Tango” nods to the folk sources from which Stravinsky drew, as well as the quartet’s recent tour of Argentina. “Earth Dance” morphs from an open, airy intro to a funkish groove over which the pianist and saxophonist drop quick declarations and interjections. “Rising Aspirations” is built on a 12-bar blues, and closer “The Chosen” provides more well-utilized space for Perry and Danko, ending with a repeated four-note phrase that leads into a full-band slammed note. It’s an apropos exclamation point on an impressively exploratory set.

Learn more about Spring Garden on Amazon!

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.