Michael Kocour's solo piano recital is comprised of great American songs, most of which were popular in the early-to-mid twentieth century. There's nothing dated or anachronistic about the ways in which he handles the material. Throughout the record's ten tracks, Kocour establishes a state of equilibrium between a fealty to traditional song forms and jazz practices; a resourceful, imaginative streak; and a great deal of facility on the instrument. While he often incorporates elements of early jazz piano styles, such as stride and boogie-woogie, it's foolish to hang any facile genre label on his playing. Kocour is simply too inventive to linger on any easily recognizable point of reference for very long. Utilizing an incisive, flexible touch and precise execution, he consistently shifts devices and strategies without sounding strained, awkward, or boastful, and never stretches the songs beyond recognition.
One of the most salient aspects of Kocour's artistry is the collaboration and balance between his hands. Not simply a matter of impressive coordination, it's really about the ways in which he makes them speak to each other. Throughout a five-four time signature interpretation of "Sweet Lorraine," the left hand's foundation and right hand's melody joust in a fashion that's jaunty, stimulating and coherent. During Kocour's improvisation, the left hand dutifully holds things in place during the right's flood of notes, yet it seems to have a mind and a purpose of its own. Similarly, during an inspired reading of "Just One Of Those Things" in seven-four time, when the right hand attracts attention, its partner doesn't sound static or take a backseat. It's alive and vital even while offering relatively repetitive figures. And Kocour can't resist briefly transitioning into an ornate, somewhat more conventional style.
An up-tempo romp that may owe the most out of all of the tracks to the stride piano tradition, "I'm Coming Virginia" features Kocour's left hand pumping blood and soul into the music, yet occasionally pauses to let the other speak its piece. While the right hand waxes bold and brassy on "I Can't Stop Loving You," the left assumes different guises, and contributes to the impression that each of Kocour's solo choruses constitutes a chapter that doesn't stray too far from the previous one.
Though he employs some of the same techniques and devices as on the livelier, more extroverted material, Kocour's ballad interpretations are accomplishments of a different order. At times "She's Funny That Way" and "Stardust" are treated like precious objects that don't need a lot of weight or ornamentation to shine. He reveals their melodies with patience and care, allowing them to speak for themselves, integrating silences that ring out as clearly as the notes. Nevertheless, Kocour's penchant for change and evolution remains intact. The improvisation on "Stardust," in particular, emerges from a relatively sheltered state and moves to places unimagined by his treatment of the melody, without trashing the mood or severing the narrative thread.
Ultimately, Kocour's piano suggests that the possibilities of the instrument and the music are indeed endless, yet his flights of imagination doesn't allow the essence of each song to fall between the cracks. East Of The Sun is earnest, thought provoking and enjoyable.