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JAZZ REVIEW : Grigorov's Timeless Concert Gives Jazz a Refreshing Twist

August 17, 1995|DON HECKMAN

A few other pianists came to mind at the start of Mario Grigorov's set at the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday night. But their names were not Oscar Peterson or McCoy Tyner.

Try Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. Wearing a loose jacket, a colorful vest and a wide-collared white shirt, and with dark, straight hair worn in a Chopinesque page-boy, Grigorov looked like a refugee from the 19th Century.

And, in some respects, he played like one as well. The Bulgarian-born artist is, first of all, an astonishing technician. And, like Liszt, he clearly revels in the sheer showmanship of his ability to whip out two-handed full keyboard runs, rapid cross-hand melodies, and fleet, nonstop ostinatos. But he also has a striking command of the tonal resources of the piano. The few slower, gentler passages he played were performed with a subtlety of touch, a delicacy of sound and a sensitive use of the instrument's pedals that are too rarely heard from many jazz pianists.

Which raises the most salient point about Grigorov's work. Despite his one-night appearance at the Bakery, he is simply not a jazz pianist. His playing possesses neither the blues foundation nor the rhythmic swing that are generally considered essential to any fundamental definition of the art.

On the other hand, Grigorov could not play with the sense of free-spirited liberation that is intrinsic to his music without some sort of jazz connection. His interpretations of "Caravan," "Body and Soul" and "Giant Steps" were fascinating--undefinable, perhaps, as mainstream jazz, but wonderfully illustrative of the symbiotic linkages that jazz is capable of making with other musical styles.

Grigorov was accompanied on several numbers by bassist Darek Oles. But the majority of his program was, almost by necessity, a one-man show--and a spectacularly entertaining one for the full house of mostly young people, who cheered his every gesture of Lisztian grandiloquence.

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