J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sending Out the Biggest Piano

For a while, it seemed like clubby fusions of jazz and house/techno/and-so-on was the sound of the future. Since then, that wave has ebbed and flowed, but Grand Pianoramax may represent a crest. The driving force behind the group is pianist/keyboardist Leo Tardin, the winner of first Montreux Jazz Festival Piano Solo Competition. Blending jazz with rap, house, and chill-out music, Grand Pianoramax sounds like a studio phenomenon, but they consider themselves a live band. Last night, Tardin launched his forthcoming Obliq Sound CD The Biggest Piano in Town at MI-5, a funky downtown venue, where it was interesting to hear some of the new tunes in a live context.

Releasing February 19, Biggest Piano covers a fair amount of stylistic ground (a full review will go up when the CD is on-sale). While GP does some more chill music-oriented tunes like “Tempest” on the CD, last night’s set was dominated by Tardin’s big synthesizer sound, appropriate for the loud party atmosphere.

Tardin in a way brings to mind the late, great Joe Zawinul, one of the few jazz pianists who were always a welcome sight behind a bank of keyboards. Despite their omnipresence in the 1970’s, and their continued use in sessions, keyboards have not exactly been embraced by jazz listeners. Perhaps Tardin the keyboard player will break through with jazz fans in that sense, like Zawinul or Herbie Hancock, while pursuing his hyphenated crossover music.

The first track on Biggest Piano is a rap collaboration titled “Showdown.” While I have heard many rap and jazz blends, this stood out for its almost idealistic defense of love, in an explicit tune about voyeurism (clean version available for radio). That’s why I enjoy blogging on music—to hear something I’ve never heard before. Tardin and company will soon be hitting the road, touring in support of the CD and opening for Maceo Parker, so it will be interesting to hear how well they build their crossover audience.

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