Karayorgis' deft touch on the piano prominently established on the instrument over a 20-year career span is, on Betwixt, transposed to that venerable benchmark of 70s jazz-rock (née fusion), the Fender Rhodes. Thanks to something of a renaissance of interest, aided and abetted by musicians re-evaluating both its legacy and continued relevance as a tool of idiosyncratic coloration, Fender's lascivious electric piano is indeed well-suited to Karayorgis' roving fingers. That he's decided for this date, competently assisted by bassist McBride and drummer Newton, to largely abandon the obvious standard tropes and go boldly where few pianists have gone before, makes for an engaging hour-plus of randy, free-wheeling, post-bop funk.
Betwixt, two Karayorgis-penned compositions aside, boasts an unlikely repertoire for the trio to surmount; that they imbue the twelve numbers with robust enthusiasm and an obvious respect for their leader's well-attuned directives maintains the quickening pulse throughout, regardless of tempo shifts. Karayorgis corrals some of the biggies Monk, Sun Ra, Ellington, Shorter if only to graft new Fenders on their rugged chassis. Karayorgis' keyboard brings the funk onboard immediately by opening with Monk's chestnut "Green Chimneys"; though not a by-rote reading Monk's innate alacrity doesn't translate literally to the Fender's chocolate-coated phraseology, and it doesn't have to Karayorgis smears a spongy, pretzel logic all over the already knotted melody. On Sun Ra's "Saturn," the keyboardist summons Ra's spirit from the sky, letting flow strange aharmonic/harmolodic space squeals and intergalactic squonks while McBride's bass walks the line and Newton engineers a sprightly gait before blowing out the backbeat for all hell to break loose. Karayorgis makes like Herbie Hancock on the title track, while his other self-penned piece, "Curt's Escape," channels Chick Corea as well, sidestepping nascent fusion's clumsy initial footings for a near-on distorted vamping that pushes the Fender's tones to critical mass.
Word must also be made regarding the Hat Hut label's consistently compelling cover imagery. Utilizing imagistic black and white photography that often brings into relief stark, architectural iconography, the label's forged a distinctive look, once rightly attributed to ECM, that's left it's stylistic forebear in the dust. Betwixt captures a lone seagull caught in a thermal updraft, poised over a bridge girder, an office building skyscraping out of the lower right frame. Much like Karayorgis and crew, arcing through a jazz idiom's stagnant atmosphere, shocking the new.
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