Larry McDonough: Small Steps
by John Barrett
"Larry McDonough plays piano with a classical formality, combined with a penchant for bass figures (from the left or right hand) that he learned as a jazz organist. He is always throwing in quotes, always changing harmonies always working to make the tune his. "Crystal Silence" opens meekly, a few high notes filled with sustain. The melody slowly emerges, and many things happen from there: percussive stabs, harsh waves of sound, and languid lyricism. It's a vigorous rendition, closer in style to Jarrett than Corea, with all of the beauty that phrase implies.
"Linus and Lucy" are miles away from Vince Guaraldi; this one gets glassy harmonies and sour interjections. Larry changes pace often, relaxing on the bridge while churning through the theme. His solo's all over the place, quoting "Dick Van Dyke" in the midst of its Tyneresque fury. "Small Steps" (sort of based on the Coltrane classic) takes rapid-fire chords in a graceful descent; his solo employs pounding hands, a lengthy quote of "So What", and frantic runs up the scale. This one evokes many moods, many styles, and many thoughts. "Good Day Sunshine" is neatly dissected, with new harmonies, leisurely pace, and crescendos followed by silence. The sound is aggressive, inquisitive, and unafraid of breaking the mold. In other words, he should be listened to.
"Coreatown", one of the disc's two originals, recalls Chick in its persistent, classical theme. Larry does a three-step walk with his left hand; the right is lazy one moment and vibrant the next. He does some beautiful parallel-hand work, then Morse code riffs, then cloudy impressionism. The "bass" solo is morose, hinting "Wrapped Around Your Finger"; tension then builds, and the quiet grows. The echo on "Nature Boy" brings out the tune's exotic nature; McDonough is poignant, and it might be his best performance. Hurried riffs appear, along with hard-pounding notes but the solitude always returns.
"Layla" is done as a salon piece, the melody barely discernable. (For a moment it sounds like "So What"!) The left hand is weighty as the other floats; the harmonies are harsh, and seem carved from stone. (The brief mention of "Here Comes the Sun" makes a cute ending.) "All Blues" is taken slow; the arrangement is jagged, and the surprises are constant. (Did I just hear "Norwegian Wood"? And is that a Cecil Taylor lick?) At times it goes far afield, but so does the rest of the album. Larry McDonough has a big style and an active mind I'm glad he shared both with us."