Fred Nardin Has an Opening!


WP 2019 - 2OPENING / NARDIN: The Giant. Parisian Melodies. New Waltz. Hope. Travel To. MONK: I Mean You. Green Chimneys. BROWN: Don’t Forget the Blues. GIBSON: Lost in Your Eyes. PORTER: You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To / Fred Nardin Trio: Nardin, pno/el-pno; Or Bareket, bs; Leon Parker, dm/perc/body rhythm / Jazz Family (no number; available as digital download)

French pianist Fred Nardin, winner of the 2016 Prix Django Reinhardt as French Musician of the Year, is a blistering bop player in the Martial Solal mold. It’s the kind of jazz you can sink your teeth into. Nardin doesn’t mess around, and his improvisations, in addition to being brilliantly played, also have substance. He is truly a composer of choruses, not just the kind of pianist who fills space, and his assisting musicians are on his wavelength.

From the very beginning of The Giant, Nardin is on form, churning out a blistering couple of choruses before relaxing the tempo a little and allowing New York-based bassist Or Bareket some solo space. Parisian Melodies is a jazz waltz, not as harmonically sophisticated as Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby but attractive in its quirky way just the same. Here, Nardin deconstructs the melody during his improvisation, picking out single notes in the right hand while Bareket provides the ground bass and harmony. When he starts increasing the speed of his playing, the tempo changes to a straight 4 as the rhythm section falls in behind him, changing back to a slower 3 once again. We again encounter 3/4 time in New Waltz, a more melodic piece played quite sensitively by Nardin and the trio. Again, he proves himself a real composer of choruses and not just a filler of space, and once again the waltz is transformed into a 4/4 piece in places.

Thelonious Monk’s I Mean You is up next, and Nardin attacks it with gusto, spinning out brilliant variants based partly on the chords and partly on the melody itself. The rhythm is also deconstructed during Bareket’s bass solo, with drummer Leon Parker providing great accents behind him. Ray Brown’s Don’t Forget the Blues is up next, and amazingly enough, Nardin also plays this in Monk’s style, which I liked very much.

Hope is sort of a medium-slow piece, but its simple riff lines scarcely constitute a melody. Even so, what Nardin does with the chord changes here is amazing, creating a real melodic line over what at first appeared to be relatively simple changes. Bareket’s solo, though quite good, is not nearly as perfect. At one point, Nardin just plays a sequence of simple repeated chords while Parker hums behind him. Travel To is quite different, a spacey piece featuring a lot of rolling figures on the keyboard and a tendency to stay on one chord for some time before shifting gears. Nardin opens this a cappella, but at 1:28 he suddenly picks up the tempo, creates a new melody and has his rhythm section fall in behind him. He then switches to electric piano for a samba-based middle section, to interesting effect; Parker does body slapping behind him and Bareket. Later still, he just repeats a four-note motif while Parker plays some very complex drums behind him.

Nardin has fun with the old Cole Porter standard, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, playing it in a nice, relaxed medium tempo that has all but disappeared from American jazz. This one swings lightly, with the pianist creating entirely new single-note melodies in the right hand. Lost in Your Eyes gets the slow ballad treatment, yet Nardin and his mates never let you feel that he’s about to descend into ambient jazz and stay there.

The set ends on an up note with Monk’s Green Chimneys, and again Nardin and his musicians are ever-alert for new ways to play old material, thus reinventing it. Nardin is not an avant-garde musician but, like Joey Alexander, he has an astonishing ear and a fertile mind that helps him create real music as he plays, not just fast, random note-patterns to fill up space. This is a great album and a musician you need to keep your eyes and ears open for in the future!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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