Pianist Guy Mintus writes lyrical, often poignant, frequently Middle Eastern-tinged jazz. Much of his original material could be called songs without words, which may reflect his decision to release his first-ever all-cover album, A Gershwin Playground, which hasn’t hit the web yet. It’s his most energetic, classically-influenced release to date, no surprise considering the material.
What’s most stunning is Mintus’ opulent, playful solo take of the complete Rhapsody in Blue, packed with devious quotes and a long series of dynamically shifting diversions, winding up with a ridiculously fast but meticulously articulated coda. If you want to hear this piece as classical music that sticks to the script, this is not it – but it sure is a lot of fun. One suspects the composer would approve.
What’s also different this time around for Mintus is that he also takes a turn on the mic, a logical development. He reinvents The Man I Love as The Girl I Love and hits all the notes over an alternatingly emphatic and glimmering backdrop. His slinky, shapeshiftingly carnivalesque take of It Ain’t Necessarily So has special resonance for this era; looks like David really is going to take out Goliath once and for all this time! Another irrepressibly fun reinvention is I Loves You Porgy, with a rapt, imploring raga intro and a diversion into a stern nigun.
A blend of latin and Yemeni rhythms help save Summertime from drifting into cliche-land. The cascading neoromantic take of Someone to Watch Over Me has a more aching intensity, although the whistling is annoying. The strutting version of They Can’t Take That Away From Me is the album’s funniest track: bassist Omri Hadani gets to delivery most of the punchlines.
Mintus opens the record with an eerily spiraling Israeli riff before punching into a colorfully ornamented, starkly swinging take of Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off along with Hadani’s bass and Yonatan Rosen’s drums. They take it out with a punchy doublespeed romp.
Mintus makes a diptych out of Fascinating Rhythm and I Got Rhythm, spiraling and clustering and sometimes crushing as the bass and drums swing tirelessly. The Debussy-esque reflecting pool of a segue between them is an unexpected treat.