Piano recital by Elena Lasco, Alfas del Pi, May 2009

Classical artist meets jazz virtuoso

Elena Lasco plays in Auditorium Teulada-Moraira Friday, 1 October 2011 Elena Lasco’s jazz presents an eclectic mix. But this is eclecticism with focus, a focus that is provided by her perhaps unique musical personality. She is classically trained, out of a prestigious Moscow music conservatoire, no less. She was a child prodigy and learned the Russian greats, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. But then this was also the Soviet Union of Nikolai Kapustin, as jazz idiom composer of dots on paper, a writer who formalised music that almost sounds like it might have been improvised. Elena Lasco’s interest in jazz clearly derives from the post-war American greats, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Thelonius Monk. And, unlike Kapustin, she does improvise. She also composes, and that’s where the eclecticism emerges.

At her recent solo concert in Teulada’s new auditorium, Elena Lasco exhibited not only consummate pianistic and improvisatory skills, but also she delivered wit and originality. This she presented her own variety of eclecticism, a character that paradoxically is no mixture. It is nothing less than her own complex statement.

She played Ellington’s “A Train”. But it’s not Ellington’s “A Train”, it’s “Don’t Take This Train”, a self-mocking variant of Strayhorn’s music. So here is the mix: jazz standard, reinterpretation by Elena Lasco, improvised upon by a performer of the same name and presented on a brand new Steinway. It was quite an evening!

“There’s That Rainy Day” follows and then personal takes on “Autumn Leaves” and “I Love Paris”. “Stella By Starlight” is followed by “A Sad Day” and then “Round Midnight” appears as something completely different, but with a feminine angle. “A Night In Tunisia” takes on a new feel, something more classically oriental than the original. “All The Things You Are” unfolds, and then Caravan, to return us to Ellington. “My Funny Valentine” is a sad song given a happy ending.

But while Hines, Peterson and Garner come to mind, so do Rachmaninov preludes, occasional pieces by Prokofiev, Tchaikovskian paroxysms and Chopin-esque lyricism. Musical quotes are peppered everywhere, sometimes obvious, sometimes disguised beneath an improvised sheen. The music has a brilliance throughout, but the wit and sophistication still shine through.

This is music that deserves repeated listening. Elena Lasco is a pianist, a composer and a performer. How’s that for eclecticism?

Philip Spires

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