American-Greek, Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis is also the co-founder of Driff Records, with another ex-pat, Dutch sax player Jorrit Dijkstra. His recent releases document the vibrant free music scene of Boston.
Duals is a 3-CD set, with each disc containing a duo session between three long-time comrades – Karayorgis, trombonist Jeb Bishop and double bass player Damon Smith. The first one is between Bishop and Smith, the second one is between pianist Karayorgis and Smith, and the third one is between Karayorgis and Bishop. These duos were recorded between October 2021 to June 2022, during Bishop’s last year of residency in Boston (that began in 2016) and soon after Smith had moved to St. Louis.
Bishop, Karayorgis and Smith are experienced, idiosyncratic improvisers, equipped with highly personal and inventive, extended techniques, and have crossed paths frequently with each other in the past. All three duos offer conversational dynamics but each one stresses their strong individual personalities. Bishop sketches brief melodic ideas and smart, playful games, and often sings and speaks with the trombone, and his duo with Smith is completely freely improvised. Smith opts for cryptic, unpredictable textures, and always challenges his partners with his restless, powerful playing, never settling on familiar patterns. Karayorgis articulates complex and nuanced structures, often clearly rooted in the jazz legacy, and his duets with Smith and Bishop alternate between the contemplative and introspective and the urgent and intense, with his original compositions alongside free improvisations. The duo of Karayorgis and Bishop is the most impressive and poetic one, enjoying their profound affinity and their gift to suggest well-crafted, intriguing, melodic structures, even within free improvisations.
Water Lilies documents a powerful live performance from the Lilypad in Cambridge, Massachusets from May 2022 when Danish drummer Kresten Osgood played with four long-time Boston-based comrades from the Boston scene – trumpeter Forbes Graham, Bishop, Karayorgis and double bass player Nate McBride. Again, these five musicians share a long history of working together and have developed a common language.
The first three pieces were composed by Karayorgis, performed recently before by Karayorgis Double Trio and his Trio and played here by a trio of Karayorgis, McBride and Osgood. These pieces are followed by an improvisation of this trio and a 30-minute quintet improvisation with Graham and Bishop. Karayorgis’ pieces «Weft» and «Entanglement» follow Monk-ish angular lines, unique harmonies and sudden twists and leave a lot of space for the restless and energetic trio, and especially fiery Osgood, to charge these pieces with fast-shifting rhythmic patterns, but «allbyitself» takes the Monk-ish veins into a lyrical, balladic mode. The trio improvisation highlights the way the resourceful Osgood drives the trio’s interplay with his percolating grooves or with sparse, rhythmic colors. The quintet improvisation is an intense and restless one, with the five musicians often employing extended techniques, but, again, stresses how these long-time associates keep feeding each other ideas and shifting moods and dynamics in an organic manner.
Karayorgis discovered recently a lost 1965 recording of the still underrated American, Philadelphia-based pianist-composer Hassan Ibn Ali, Metaphysics (Omnivore, 2021), known today mostly as a great admirer of pianist-composer Elmo Hope. Karayorgis immediately felt the need to transcribe and understand Ibn Ali’s compositions and to present them alongside pieces by Thelonious Monk and Hope, who, like Ibn Ali, stood out for their brilliant—yet unorthodox—writing and their highly personal approach to playing the piano.
Karayorgis studied before the work of innovative composers like Duke Ellington (himself Monk’s spiritual father), Monk (including the brilliant 12-tone Monk inventions of German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach), Lennie Tristano, Eric Dolphy and Steve Lacy. The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project, with long-standing comrades double bass player McBride and drummer Luther Gray, offers a brilliant and most interesting context of the seminal Bebop legacy, full of musical and historical connections. It is a heartfelt, engaging homage that swings joyfully and is performed with wise, economic command. And it is a perfect opportunity to become familiar with Ibn Ali’s idiosyncratic compositions like «Stars over Marrakesh», which resonates with Dizzy Gillespie’s «A Night In Tunisia», the elusive, bluesy melody of «Atlantic Ones» or his Monk-ish «El Hasaan» and «Viceroy».
Jeb Bishop (tb), Pandelis Karayorgis (p), Damon Smith (b), Nate McBride (b), Forbes Graham (tp), Luther Gray (d), Kresten Osgood (dr)