Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Sounds of Switzerland: Grand Pianoramax

The Biggest Piano in Town
By Grand Pianoramax (Leo Tardin)

When you think Swiss music, what comes to mind? Yodeling? The first sounds to go through your head are probably not a heavy mix of funky keyboards, Moogish effects, and rap and spoken word vocals, however that is what Geneva’s own Leo Tardin brings to the table with his group Grand Pianoramax. They perform this Wednesday night in Manhattan as part of “Switzerland Meets New York,” a showcase of contemporary Swiss music at the Canal Room.

Leo Tardin is Grand Pianoramax. The concept is his, and the band is basically the duo format of his piano and keyboards, with drums, augmented with different guests, including rap and spoken word artists, like Mike Ladd and Celena Glenn, who appeared on his latest CD, last year’s The Biggest Piano in Town, and will join him tomorrow at the Canal Room. Biggest Piano starts with “Showdown,” the track that really earns BPIW the parental advisory logo on the cover. There is a “clean” edit too, but here “clean” is relative. It is an explicit fable of dueling voyeuristic superheroes that in its way, makes an idealistic defense of romantic love. Sort of.

There are a few somewhat more jazz oriented tracks as well, like the acoustic “Ride I: the Race.” It is a nice showcase for Tardin’s facility on the keys (which won the premiere Montreux Jazz Festival solo piano competition), giving a sense of the road he is largely not currently taking. Most tracks however, have a definitely pronounced electro-funk feeling, like “The Hook Introduction” and “Ride II: Driftin.”

BPIW segues through a variety of moods, drifting into chill-out territory at times. While “In the Lab’s” plethora of quirky effects over Parks’ steady drum line are at first somewhat dull, the tune dramatically evolves into “Tempest,” a hypnotic trance that recalls the best work of groups like four80east. Given its strong melodic hook, it might be the most compelling track on Biggest Piano, making a strong conclusion for the disk.

Joining GP on the program Wednesday will be Swiss jazz vocalist Beat Kaestli and singer-songwriter-cellist Serena Jost. Tardin in particular, enjoys blurring genres and shaking things up, so it should be interesting to hear his 10:00 set. After all, an artist who makes the digital dance charts and also gets reviewed in jazz publications bears watching.