Following a European tour praised in the press, the duo of award-winning jazz-funk-electro pianist, Leo Tardin and drum modernist Dom Burkhalter returns to the US for a one-off show in NYC at DROM (85 Ave. A, btw. 5th + 6th) on May 11th. Tardin and Burkhalter will be accompanied on stage by longtime collaborator Mike Ladd.
If you are in the NYC area, it will be worth your time to be there. It promises to be a show not to be missed.
I’m not big on burying the lead, so let’s just put it out there. This release is, in a word, su-friggin-perb!
Now let’s break it down.
Grand Pianoramax is the brainchild of Swiss pianist, Leo Tardin. On Smooth Danger he is joined by drummer, Dominik Burkhalter on all tracks. Some notable guests also join in, including world-reknown percussionist, Karsh Kale, and rappers, Black Cracker and Mike Ladd.
When the press pack for Smooth Danger rolled into BRB headquarters, it cited an eclectic mix of jazz, hip hop, electronic, etc. And, if I’m gonna be honest, I cringe when something is heralded as an eclectic mix of anything. It usually winds up being bunch of crap by a self-produced, immature band or musician.
But this? This was something altogether different. And it starts with Tardin himself.
There are some musicians out there (Bowie comes to mind), who are so distinct in their artistry and execution, that they can seamlessly move across genres so that when you listen to a song, you don’t say, “That was a pop song” or “That was a rock song.” You simply say, “That was a Bowie song.” Tardin is that kind of artist. As such, he can easily incorporate many different elements into his songs, because his sense of musicianship is so elevated that the whole concept of genre is an afterthought.
Smooth Danger opens with “Infidel”. The rhythmic piano riffing in the lower register that starts the track is the aural equivalent to falling down the stairs and landing on your feet. And the Bonham-esque drum beat that drops in lets you know that this isn’t going to be a relaxing lounge lizard endeavor. It’s time for bidness.
What ensues is track after track of music that just swings. Beyond the infectious rhythm, however, is the expertise of Tardin’s timbral mind. He layers synths like a scientist, stacking classic analogue sounds on top of grand piano fullness. The result is a sweet synthony that builds and builds over the course of the entire album. And Tardin hits all the sounds, summoning tones made famous by Herbie Hancock, Pink Floyd and The Who among others.
But wait, there’s more.
We’ll start with Karsh Kale. If there is a better tabla player alive today, I’ve not heard him. The organic nature of the tabla, along with Burkhalter’s beautifully behind-the-beat drumming creates a solid foundation that balances some of Tardin’s more guttural synth riffs. It’s a balance that is brilliant as a concept and even better as a reality.
Black Cracker and Mike Ladd are excellent. To illustrate why, you’ll have to endure a short rant. Bear with me. It all comes around.
Sometime in the early-to-mid ‘90s, hip-hop reached a point in its evolution that featured two camps. There were artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Arrested Development that took hip hop as a form of poetry that could call on a long tradition of storytelling. Then there were gangsta rappers, who saw rap as a vehicle for boasting about their “hardness”. Unfortunately, gangsta rap prevailed and has left us with a modern hip hop scene that is dominate by crap like this.
Still, an underground scene of hip hop artists refuses to accept that hip hop has to be something that appeals to the lowest common denominator and can still be a vehicle for social commentary and delivered in a way that pushes the boundaries of technique to extend it into the realm of slam poetry.
Black Cracker and Mike Ladd are both proponents of this movement. Their artistry is the perfect complement to Tardin’s arrangements. You can check out in the first single from the album, “Roulette”, in the video below. It features both Karsh Kale and Black Cracker.
The highlight of Smooth Danger, however, is “Domestic Bliss” featuring Mike Ladd. The plodding introductory rhythm provides a tense background for Ladd’s lyrics that build, going from an announcement, to a warning, to a full-on passionate and explosive delivery that is supported by Tardin’s angular playing that, in combination with Ladd’s delivery, creates a cacophony of emotion that finally peaks, before the peaceful closing aftermath It’s a rollercoaster ride that reminds us of what music is capable of in the hands of those who aim to create art and not just songs. And it’s worth the price of the whole CD by itself.
The final track, “Midnight Morning” is a somber closer based around a simple piano progression that is decorated with synth string pads, strategically placed delays and simple Rhodes melodies. It’s a fitting close to an album that demands your attention. It slowly releases you back into your life, where the first order of business is to reach over and push the play button again.
I guarantee, you will not hear another album like Smooth Danger this year. It is available now.
Grand Pianoramax is the musical project of Montreux Jazz Festival piano solo competition winner, Leo Tardin. Following a major tour with jazz-funk legend Maceo Parker in support of the second Grand Pianoramax record, Tardin has partnered with drum modernist Dom Burkhalter and guests such as internationally reknowned tabla player Karsh Kale, and spoken-word artists Black Cracker (Cocorosie) and Mike Ladd, to complete the most ambitious Grand Pianoramax album to date. Created in Mumbai, Switzerland, Paris, Bristol and the band’s home base of Berlin, Smooth Danger with be released May 3rd, 2011 by the ObliqSound label.
Grand Pianoramax recently appeared at SXSW 2011 before heading out on a European tour that has taken Tardin, Burkhalter and Black Cracker to Switzerland, Germany, France and The Netherlands. Joining up with acclaimed rapper and poet Mike Ladd, Grand Pianoramax will return to the States for a special performance on May 11th at Drom in NYC. A southern gig at Café Apache in Atlanta follows on May 14th.
Check out the single, “Roulette”, (feat. Black Cracker & Karsh Kale) from Smooth Danger here.