Pandelis Karayorgis

Heart and Sack
Leo Lab / CD048

Pandelis Karayorgis / piano, Nate McBride / bass, Randy Peterson / drums

Karayorgis sounds like one of those players so bloody-mindedly focussed on his own concept that accompanists had better fall in line or seek work elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with this — the same could be said of Cecil Taylor, for instance — and he is an elegant player, but his harmonic and rhythmic approaches are so downright weird as to severely test his fellow musicians’ instincts.


Pandelis Karayorgis | Photo: Peter Gannushkin

What makes things worse for them is that as soon as, say, Peterson picks up what he’s doing and starts to follow, Karayorgis seems to take this as a cue to make a sideways leap and play something at right-angles to what preceded it, leaving the poor drummer to hammer home an accent which is no longer there. That Karayorgis does this on purpose seems undeniable, simply because he pursues this policy so consistently throughout this disk. It seems that he enjoys the tension, the xenochronous effect of piano and rhythm section moving in and out of phase. This is a disconcerting strategy at first, but eventually it starts to make some sense.


Nate McBride | Photo: Peter Gannushkin

Nate McBride has something else to contend with: Karayorgis’ harmonic ideosyncrasies. Like all the best pianists who thrive on dissonance — Taylor, Crispell, Bergman, Riley and the rest — he miraculously has his own sound, harmonic strategies which seem to belong to him. Nevertheless, while it is easy enough for the listener to begin to feel at home with these ideas, it is much less so for a musician to develop a successful response to them in improvisation. This is why McBride, a fine player who takes some strong solos, is reduced to walking most of the time, or to fairly minimal contributions. It’s a successful solution, inasmuch as the result is an agreeable sound, but one cannot help the feeling that the only approach to Karayorgis’ bulldozer may be just this: to keep out of the way.


Randy Peterson | Photo: Peter Gannushkin

The impression of the pianist as domineering may not be helped by the quality of the recording, which is not unlike having your head shoved under the piano lid. In fact, his playing is sensitive and extremely well thought-out, and John Corbett is right in his sleeve notes to call this a work of subtle understatement, although paradoxically it’s a rather loud one with a lot of notes in it. Listening to Heart and Sack has much of the same pleasure to it as listening to Monk. One strains to follow his ideas as they constantly shift direction, smiling with what is a rare privelege these days, the privelege of not being talked down to. Richard Cochrane