Improvisation is one of the primary differences that differentiates jazz from all other forms of music. Unlike say in most classical music, the individual in a jazz setting is given the ability to make a personal statement within (or without) the context of the composer's stated note choices. This sense of freedom is essential to the central tenant of jazz and explains why, through utilizing individual chords and note choices substituted for the original ones, jazz artists of today can still find rewards in reworking the melodic standards of the past without always sounding the same.
The solo piano setting is one that has been popular since the days of Chopin, Liszt, and even Mozart and Bach before them were famous for their improvisation skills on the keyboard, although the bulk of classical music is highly composed. Scott Joplin, and later Jelly Roll Morton, inspired generations of solo pianists like Fats Waller and Errol Garner, and countless others who were often prized for their ability to entertain bar and bordello patrons without requiring the added expense of an entire band. Post Coltrane, pianists like Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley took their explorations into a more impressionistic and spiritual realm - one that it can be argued resulted in the recordings of New Age artists like George Winston.
Pianist Randy Klein's work, as released on "The Flowing" veers more toward the New Age sound, but this is not meant as a slight in any way. The performances, all recorded in a single sitting, are quite satisfying and indeed, "flowing" in nature. Improvisations, like "The Calm" and the title track are heartfelt and quite lovely. Pieces like "A is For Angel" and "Can't Get You Out of My Mind" could be pop songs. The charming "Child Like" lives up to its title, presenting an innocent romp across the keys, while another well-titled number, "Clean and Beautiful," is another favorite. Calming, contemplative, restorative and smooth, these pieces are perfect for a relaxing evening with a good book away from the stressful and wearisome.
On the other end of the spectrum, although no less delightful, wild man NYC-based pianist Dave Frank is back with another release of exciting solo explorations. Frank is perhaps truer to the jazz piano tradition, starting out with a fantastic version of the oft-recorded Dizzy Gillespie number "A Night in Tunisia." Nor is this the only standard he deconstructs: "Star Eyes," "Without a Song," "Here's That Rainy Day" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream" are just some of the tunes he transforms the Dave Frank way (there are also three interesting originals included). The listener never knows where Frank will take the song, what new directions he will suddenly sprint in, what journeys will be made. Case in point, who else but Frank would insert a line from Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" into the middle of that old chestnut "Indiana." But that's just one of many surprises in store for listener. Nor are these explorations mere showboating. In the hands of the talented Mr. Frank, these odd changes make perfect sense. Another entertaining and intriguing outing from one of the best solo piano improvisers on the current scene.