Jazz CD Reviews

Michael Kieran Harvey – Collection/ 48 Fugues For Frank – Move Records

Australian piano virtuoso takes on rock icon Frank Zappa.

Published on February 13, 2013

Michael Kieran Harvey – Collection/ 48 Fugues For Frank – Move Records

Michael Kieran Harvey – Collection/ 48 Fugues For Frank – Move Records MD 3339, 60:08 ****:

(Michael Kieran Harvey – solo piano)

When a rock musician is described as eclectic, Frank Zappa immediately comes to mind. As the leader of the groundbreaking, genre-shattering Mothers Of Invention, he produced a catalogue of ingenious, bizarre music that defies description. From the early psychedelic roots-based Freak Out and We’re Only In It For The Money, to collaborative projects with Zubin Mehta and The Los Angeles Philharmonic, he led an assault on musical convention. Various albums covered jazz (Jazz From Hell), rock (Joe’s Garage), progressive and avant-garde concepts. His film 200 Motels remains a cult classic to this day. In addition to his musical prominence, he became a national spokesman for many causes, especially the opposition to “label rating”.

One of Zappa’s greatest passions was classical music. In high school, he studied classical composition, while simultaneously playing drums in a rhythm and blues band. Later in his career, he became a fan of the Synclavier (an early digital synthesizer) and worked with composers, including Pierre Boulez. His synclavier projects included Francesco Zappa and Civilization Phaze III. Sadly, this was his final opus, preceding his untimely death in 1993.

Michael Kieran Harvey (a classical Australian pianist) has extensive classical roots, including disciplined composers like Bach, Debussy, Liszt, Shostakovich and Schumann. However, he was introduced to the head-expanding virtuosity of Zappa. In particular, he was inspired by the synclavier opus, Francesco Zappa. Subsequently Kieran embraced this subversive approach to composition.

48 Fugues For Frank is an unpredictable, exhilarating tribute to one of rock’s greatest instrumental pioneers. Ten (not 48…perhaps a nod to Zappa humor) compositions reflect intensity and idiosyncratic progressions that link both composers. “Fugue #1 (Greggery Peccary, Pentagon Afternoon)” is bold and dramatic with sharp arpeggios and spirited rhythm patterns. Influenced by “The Girl In The Magnesium Dress”, the second piece is very percussive as Harvey attacks the piano with assured force. He introduces various classical legends into these songs. For “Jazz From Hell”, the pianist invokes Debussy and Bartok to interpret Zappa’s uncanny improvisational guitar chords (Note: The liner notes are extremely detailed and provide technical insight into the album). There is a jazzy quality to “Fugue #4 (Tink Runs Amok) which utilizes a 12/8 time signature, but maintains a stark resonance.

Each track has its own identity and flair. Fugue #5 (exploring Zappa’s underappreciated “Civilization Phaze III”) has some quasi-romantic finesse, but still erupts with fury. He captures rapid intensity on “G-Spot Tornado” with unrelenting tempo. Taking on another gem from Jazz In Hell (“St. Etienne/Guitar Solo”) Harvey draws on classical roots to invoke melodic terse patterns. Returning to percussive eminence, the beginning notation on “Fugue #8 (Ruth is Sleeping”) sustains an intricate contrapuntal exploration. The final composition (“Baby Snakes”) exhibits moments of lyrical harmonic fluency. As with many of the cuts, there is a fiery evolution.

Like Zappa, pianist Michael Kieran Harvey is fearless and inventive. 48 Fugues For Frank is a unique tribute.

TrackList: Greggery Peccary, Pentagon Afternoon; The Girl In The Magnesium Dress; Jazz From Hell; Tink Runs Amok; Civilization Phaze III; G-Spot Tornado; St. Etienne: Guitar Solo; Ruth Is Sleeping; The Black Page; Baby Snakes

—Robbie Gerson




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