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Joey Calderazzo: Haiku

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In his recent work with Branford Marsalis, and as long ago as 1995 on Secrets, his own excellent album on AudioQuest, Joey Calderazzo has shown himself to be a pianist with passionate creative energy and the chops to channel it. Haiku is his first solo recording, and it is a quality project that falls short of expectations.

The quality begins with Calderazzo’s sheer skill. On the two takes of “Bri’s Dance,” his two hands perform functions as independent as could be governed by one brain. His left stabs a relentless repetitive three-against-two anchoring force, while his right fidgets freely and flies. “My One and Only Love” slowly intensities as it uncovers connotations of the melody, then recedes again. It is both musically sophisticated and emotionally sincere.

Quality also is evident in the high production standards of the Marsalis Music label. Producer Branford Marsalis likes to use empty concert spaces as recording studios. Haiku was recorded by engineer Rob Hunter at George Weston Recital Hall in Toronto. Calderazzo’s Steinway is vivid and focused, but its rich, complex decays also fill a real-world ambient environment.

Yet most of Haiku vacillates oddly between overstatement and understatement. The two ferocious takes of “Bri’s Dance” make their sweat and cleverness apparent on the first listening, and create no need for a second. The experiments with nouveau stride, “Just One of Those Things” and the Monkish “Dancin’ for Singles,” are impeccably executed but self-conscious.

Surprisingly, given Calderazzo’s natural zeal and bravado, the slow pieces are mostly pallid and wandering. The 11-minute title track, named for a highly distilled 17-syllable verse form, is the musical equivalent of wordy. The 10 minutes of “Chopin” and Kenny Kirkland’s “Dienda” are somehow both ephemeral and ponderous, and fail to make us care about their subjects.