By Ed Enright | Published February 2019
Pianist Michael Kocour brings formidable technique and exquisite touch to 10 Great American Songbook standards on East Of The Sun, his third solo outing.
Performed on a refurbished 1975 Steinway model B grand in a small studio with no added reverb, the album has an intimate, straightforward vibe that recalls classic solo piano recordings by the likes of Hank Jones, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. Kocour gets deep inside the repertoire and dwells there to his own satisfaction, taking everything at his own pace. On tracks like “I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues,” his patient, striding left hand allows his right hand to take off on detailed melodic excursions that delight the ear without ever straying too far from home.
Kocour not only nails all the changes of these old, familiar tunes; he crafts well-anchored structures out of them, deploying clever devices that reveal the depth of the material and create a swinging momentum that keeps the listener engaged. He takes an altogether unexpected approach to Gershwin’s “Who Cares?,” switching the roles of his left and right hands, and letting an entire arrangement unfold as he explores the tune’s harmonic contours at bebop speed. On the ballads “She’s Funny That Way” and “Star Dust,” Kocour makes the most of the Steinway’s pure, dry tone and player-friendly responsiveness, conjuring dreamy images of years gone by, while tempering any residual sentimentality with tasteful touches of modern-leaning reharmonization. Kocour closes the program on an uplifting note with the sanctified gospel groove of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a vibrant, indulgent track rife with lively tremolos, greasy grace notes and dramatically stretched-out rhythms.
Originally from the Chicago area, the Phoenix-based pianist (who’s director of jazz studies at Arizona State University) has released six albums as a leader or co-leader, including Speaking In Tongues, a 2006 solo album of repertoire by Bud Powell and Monk, and Wherever You Go, There You Are, a 2004 solo album that combines jazz standards and original compositions.