Steeplechase Records SCCD 31931
Harold Danko (piano)
Recorded December 2021
Whenever the name, Harold Danko crops up I immediately think of his sterling contribution to various Chet Baker sessions, most particularly the wonderful `Chet Baker in Tokyo` of 1987. Of course, there is much more than that and in recent years he has achieved almost artist in residence status at Steeplechase recording in various formats with artists such as Rich Perry, Kirk Knuffke, Jay Anderson and Jeff Hirshfield.
In these settings his music has taken on a more academic mien as evidenced by this latest release in which he pursues a continuing fascination for the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and in particular the Russian composer’s magnum opus `The Rite of Spring` (1913) from which he extracts elements to serve as source materials for his original compositions.
Stravinsky himself was not averse to plundering other musical forms – particularly folk music – or the work of other composers to propagate original material and although he was never a jazz man in the strictest sense his use of vibrant, motoric rhythms and tight fugal patterns made his music appealing to several members of the jazz fraternity, particularly Woody Herman who commissioned Igor to write a showcase piece for his orchestra, `Ebony Concerto` (1945).
This appeal has had a lasting effect and readers may recall that a jazz version of `The Rite`, headed up my best of 2022 list published earlier this month.
Danko’s recital is quite different from Jim McNeely’s big band suite and in the course of nine elegantly expressed dissertations for solo piano he works melodic and harmonic fragments of the Stravinsky score into his new music combining them with jazz flourishes and allusions to ancient forms that may well have inspired the pagan visions summoned up in the ballet.
Those familiar with the original work will find it quite fascinating identifying them even though it shouldn’t be regarded as a `Where’s Wally` exercise. The pieces, mostly reflective and elegiac are derived from the quieter, mystical parts of the score and exhibit a great deal in the way of interpretive sophistication.
It’s not my place to question the performer’s intentions, but as a lifelong admirer of Stravinsky’s music I come with my own expectations and regret that Danko doesn’t do more to bring out the visceral, brutality of the `dance to the death` sacrifice that features so powerfully in the original music.
Only in the final piece, `Sprung` does he achieve the degree of pungent primitivism envisaged preferring to linger over the work’s more transcendent qualities.
Reviewed by Euan Dixon