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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove


88 Fingers

Eyran Records 9008




1. Close Enough for Love
2. Lover
3. Mack the Knife
4. Groovin' High
5. September Song
6. Improvisation on a Theme by Mussorgsky
7. Maura's Tune
8. Improvisation on a Waltz by Chopin
9. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
10. What'll I Do?
11. Those Were the Days
12. Midnight with the Stars and You
13. Dream a Little Dream of Me
14. A Night in Tunisia
15. The Summer Knows
16. Who Knows How Much?
Eyran Katsenelenbogen - Piano

When I saw this musician's name, I did a double-take. With a surname like my own, I am used to people having unusual names, but I had previously only encountered something like this man's surname in the title of a silly but popular comic song from my childhood: Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea.

However, there is nothing silly about this pianist, who was born in Israel, where he was taught by Daniel Barenboim's mother. Thus he was classically trained but, when he moved to the USA, he studied jazz piano with such people as Paul Bley, Fred Hersch and Danilo Perez. He now lives in Boston, USA, and teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.

This is his tenth album of solo piano but it is the first time I have heard him - and I am highly impressed. His remarkable technique means that he has inevitably been compared with Art Tatum, whose dexterous runs and decorative touches he matches with seeming ease. There is nevertheless a difference between Eyran and Art, as Tatum grew up in the James P. Johnson tradition of stride piano, which gave most of his work an irresistible forward thrust. Eyran, on the other hand, tends to bring a classical sensibility to popular tunes. Certainly Art Tatum occasionally tackled classical compositions - for example, in his interpretation of Dvorak's Humoresque - but this tendency is more marked in Katsenelenbogen. In two of the tracks on this CD, Eyran improvises on themes by Mussorgsky and Chopin, although most of the other tracks are familiar jazz standards. Yet Eyran makes some of these popular songs sound like classical preludes.

This is certainly true of the opening track. Close Enough for Love is presented with delicacy - like a piece of reflective chamber music. But the following Lover is much more showy, with brilliant twinkling runs up and down the piano (which, as with Art Tatum, tend to suspend the rhythmic flow). There are also hints of a lilting waltz. Mack the Knife is different again, mixing touches of stride piano with elegant runs. The bebop classic Groovin' High is transformed into a graceful, glittering affair, and September Song is taken very slowly but with increasing intensity, heightening the emotion.

The first of Eyran's improvisations on a classical piece is based on the promenade theme from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition This probably originated on a tour that Eyran made with the Russian classical pianist Andrei Ivanovitch, in which Andrei played the straight version of Pictures at an Exhibition and Eyran improvised on its themes. But I find it difficult to hear Mussorgsky's melody in Eyran's improvisation, exciting though it is. The other improvisation on a classical piece - a well-known Chopin waltz - gives it a Latin-American rhythm which works surprisingly well.

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? is decorated with scintillating runs and Thelonious Monk-like chords. Irving Berlin's What'll I Do? is performed tenderly, preceding the contrasting Those Were the Days (Mary Hopkin's chart-topping 1968 British hit), which is conveyed with almost Beethovenian force. Eyran himself commented: "The defining moment for me, the heartbeat at the core of 88 Fingers, is the transition from the softest pianissimo note that concludes What'll I Do to the explosive rendition of Those Were the Days". Things calm down for the little-known Midnight with the Stars and You, which has the lilt of a tango.

Eyran seems in a hurry to get through the melody of Dream a Little Dream of Me, but it eventually settles down into a series of dislocated sections in varied tempos and styles. A Night in Tunisia also appears to be in a hurry, although the pianist's brilliant technique ensures that he has no difficulty with negotiating the tune's twists and turns at such a speed.

The album ends with two quiet songs, which both rise to impassioned climaxes: a poetic reading of Michel Legrand's The Summer Knows (although with the first hint of a wrong note or two) and Who Knows How Much? - the latter with echoes of Rachmaninov.

One word of warning: the CD is not released until 1 April - but this is not an April fool! The album title is well chosen: the full piano keyboard has 88 notes, and Eyran uses all of them without inhibition, seemingly using the same number of fingers.

Tony Augarde





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