The stimulating and delightful East of the Sun is pianist Michael Kocour's second solo release. On it the masterful improviser delves deep into the Great American Songbook with elegance, intelligence, and vibrant spontaneity. Kocour also expresses influences from across the instrument's history in jazz as he deftly deconstructs and reinterprets these classic tunes.
For instance, Kocour performs Neil Moret's (a.k.a. Charles N. Daniels) "She's Funny That Way" with tender contemplation. His cascading notes and resonant tones hint at both ragtime and Harlem stride. Kocour's unhurried and sophisticated flourishes give the standard a refreshingly timeless quality.
Similarly, Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things" is stripped down to its core melody and then, with each bar, Kocour embellishes it with passionate phrases, some with strong bluesy hints. The track becomes more intricate and captivating before Kocour unravels it with agility, returning it to its main theme.
Kocour transforms Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" from a country song to a swinging, soulful piece with an acerbic edge. His extemporizations are simultaneously modern and deeply rooted in tradition.
Of course, throughout the album, Kocour's virtuosity is on full display. George Gershwin's "Who Cares?" features an energetic exploration of the piano's full range while Donald Heywood's "I'm Coming Virginia" is full of breathtaking arpeggios and percussive, dense chords.
Lastly, Kocour displays his romantic side on Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" as he lets loose wistful, shimmering lines that form a yearning and expressive soliloquy.
Whether leading various groups, or working on his own, Kocour is a consummate artist. Each new release is thrillingly inventive and quite intriguing. Kocour's sound continues to evolve and mature. East of the Sun is another high point in his uniformly superb output.