Live Jazz: Geoffrey Keezer at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

Grammmy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer showcased his impressive solo talents at Vitello’s Friday night for an enthusiastic, overflow crowd sparkling with the presence of such stellar  music world listeners as Chris Botti, Billy Childs, Bobby Colomby, John Proulx, Mike Lang, Denise Donatelli, Mark Winkler and others.

Seemingly inspired by his audience, Keezer offered a far-ranging set of music, chosen from jazz, pop and folk sources. In his first solo performance in more than a decade, he celebrated the release of his latest album, also a solo effort, Heart of the Piano.

The piano is often described as a complete orchestra in itself, and Keezer clearly had that perspective in mind as he roved, adventurously, through one richly textured, rhythmically alive improvisation after another.  His program reached from tunes by Stevie Wonder, Alanis Morrisette, Peter Gabriel and Rush to Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter and Christian McBride.

Geoffrey Keezer
Geoffrey Keezer

That’s a challenging collection of musical stimuli, and Keezer responded to it with a full-bodied expression of his creative imagination.  At times, his mastery of the piano, driven by fast, busy fingers, called up aural images of Shostakovich and Bartok.  At other times, he dug into his jazz roots, moving easily into alternating passages touching on everything from stride to bebop.  And Keezer did so with ease, investing the jazz segments with an irresistible sense of swing.

He was especially compelling on a pair of works that triggered rich, emotional interpretations – Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the Robert Burns/traditional tune “My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose” (inspired, Keezer said, by the Eva Cassidy version, and which he dedicated to his wife Susan).

Billy Martinez
Billy Martinez

Keezer climaxed  his performance with an improvisational duet with artist Billy Martinez, who painted on several tall canvas panels, as Keezer played.  While it was unclear if either artist was leading the way, they nonetheless seemed inspired by each other as they interacted in completely spontaneous fashion.  Searching together, they often found fascinating, common creative ground.

The only uncertain moments in this otherwise memorable musical evening, came when Keezer leaned a bit too strongly in the direction of the piano as an orchestra.  While these passages were stunning displays of his virtuosic improvisational skills, one also wished to hear more of Keezer’s gift for melodic lyricism.

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That said, his solo piano playing deserves a wider hearing.  If you weren’t in the crowd for Friday night’s concert, most of the pieces Keezer played can be found in the CD that inspired the performance, Heart of the Piano.  Don’t miss it.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

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