The ease of expression with which pianist Michael Kocour unspools standards tends to belie the greatness of his playing. With extreme comfort and control he lays out one beautiful performance after another, all the while presenting a fine balance between technical accomplishment and creative bent.
East Of The Sun—the sixth leader (or co-leader) date from Kocour, and the third to offer a detailed look at his solo piano work—largely focuses on songs from the '20s and '30s. This pianist's approach to such material is neither dated nor newfangled. Kocour certainly doesn't play as time traveler, occupying the stance of a different era or regurgitating what's been done. But he also refuses to twist or conceal the compositional gifts bestowed upon us by Gershwin, Arlen, Porter, and the like. Instead he finds his own way through these timeless wonders, and his directional sense during the process proves remarkable.
Kocour's arranger's eye, deft decision-making skills on the bench, and clean touch on the instrument all contribute greatly to this program's success. Whether recasting "Sweet Lorraine" in 5/4 or "Just One Of Those Things" in 7/4, hurdling through "Who Cares?" with panache, or not-so-simply leaning into the soulful carriage of "I Can't Stop Loving You," his performances prove personal and profound. No number runs north of six minutes here—the majority of these takes actually clock in under five—but the stories leave nothing unsaid. Whether we're talking about the cheery charms of "I'm Coming Virginia" or the peaceable gifts of "Star Dust," the takeaway remains consistent and clear: Michael Kocour knows of what he plays, and that knowledge is a beautiful thing to behold.