From the first few phrases of this disc East of the Sun by Michael Kocour it becomes clear that music to this pianist is the elixir of life; the urgency and vivacity of this performance and the generosity with which he treats each familiar melody leads one to experience a kind of life-giving spark that has ignited our collective sensibility. Every song also benefits from that spark. As a result the entire performance becomes an epic journey into what we thought was familiar terrain, but find that it also insights that are wholly new.
Mr Kocour does not do run of the mill. Whatever the repertoire - in this case standards - he manages to provide a fresh perspective founded not on gimmicks, but thoughtful integrity allied to insightful playing. This is eminently clear from "East of the Sun" with which he, thankfully, opens this recital. How marvelous to listen to a beautiful song played with such emotional restraint; at such a leisurely pace that every quaver in the unbroken right-hand melody sets due weight in this artfully convincing treatment. Furthermore there's nothing honeyed or hackneyed in the delivery of contrapuntal and arpeggiated figurations in "She's Funny That Way" and mannered gestures in "Sweet Lorraine", both of which feature a lovely evenness of melody tampered by rich lush harmonies. Moreover, each of the songs is delivered in fastidiously-controlled moods and colours.
And in these - Mr Kocour's - hands every song is a revelation without being a circus of virtuosity. The tempos are cool and deliberate, the passagework transparent and graceful, the prevailing mood playful and tender; continuing throughout the album of ten gorgeous songs. That playfulness often segues into profundity whenever the suggested mood of the stories and their characters who play in them change. Here every bar is infused with visionary authority, encouraging the listener to dream and be transported to the world of each individual piece of music. The closing song unfolds in unclouded serenity. Who else would have made it sound like that?
This is a balletic performance. It is work that comes across not as pale imitation of orchestral textures, but incisive, full-blooded thoroughly idiomatic masterpieces for solo piano, using pianistic gestures that define both performer and performance in a manner that is enthralling and colourfully resonant. Truly an album to die for...