Review by Brad Walseth
Pianist Dave Frank is a well-known artist and instructor whose "Dave Frank School of Jazz" in New York City specializes in teaching improvisation skills. One listen to his most recent release - "Ballads & Burners" - and you will readily understand why the piano master is uniquely qualified to guide young improvisers in developing their improvisational technique.
The set of 12 solo piano vignettes that grace this record careen from one mood and energy to another with only Frank's ineludible mastery of the keyboard in common. Opening track "The Spirit of the Burn" is sheer pedal-to-the-metal speed improvisation over the chord changes from Kern's "Yesterdays." The first of several pieces inspired by paintings - "Rousseau's World," follows and is a quiet peaceful interlude that was prompted by viewing Henri Rosseau's famous painting - "The Sleeping Gypsy." "The Mechanization of America" is a strangely addictive boogie-woogie that perfectly captures the industrialization of the U.S. at the turn of the century. One could imagine this song being performed to an old black and white silent film like Metroplois or Modern Times. In fact, like the accompianists that used to play along with the old silent films, Frank's improvisations seem to be a soundtrack for movies that play only in Frank's mind and exist to express his perceptions of our modern world.
Frank's fingers oscillate up and down the keys like an electronic pulse on "Information Highway, while "Salvador Dali in a State of Grace" imagines what Dali's atonal afterworld experience might be like. "Jackson Pollack at Work" captures its title perfectly, and one can almost picture the painter splattering paint on his canvas through the pianists rapid gestures and motions. Other songs reflect upon Frank's reactions to painters Manet and Renoir, a stormy island setting ("Afternoon in Nahant") and war ("Allied Forces"). The humorous "Like People in Heat" imagines people circling and churning with sexual energy, while occasional romantic chords drop in to taunt them. Finally, even poor Cole Porter is given the Frank treatment as the artist takes "It's Alright with Me" and burns it to the ground.
"Burners and Ballads" lives up to its title and highlights the pedagogic pianist's supreme proficiency in the art of improvisation. Like the painters he draws inspiration from, Dave Frank paints pictures - using his piano lines like brush strokes to create landscapes and portraits in sound.