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Larry Novak – Piano
Eric Hochberg – Bass
Rusty Jones – Drums
Master pianist and consummate interpreter of jazz standards, Larry Novak, is one of the unsung heroes of the Chicago scene. His second release as a leader, Invitation comes five decades after his debut and highlights Novak’s mature side. His improvisational skills and his “pianism” have aged well, and, like fine a brandy, his sound has a heady, smooth tone with a warm and mordant edge.
On this Delmark release, Novak sandwiches between two short, unaccompanied solos, and eight trio performances of well-known tunes. The opener, “A Waltz For Debbie,” and the closer, “Too Late Now,” showcase his laidback, tuneful and intimate style and his understated impressionism. On the remainder of the album, he and his bandmates expand with leisure as they deconstruct the various melodies with intelligence and deference.
The passionate ballad “Close Enough for Love” unfurls with deep lyricism over drummer Rusty Jones’ soft brushes, splashing cymbals and reserved, yet muscular beats. Bassist Eric Hochberg takes center stage with mellifluous and agile soliloquy that elegantly emerges from the melancholic ensemble play and fades seamlessly back into it. Novak exhibits western classical influences in his own spontaneous embellishments of the Johnny Mandell composition.
The energetic title track opens with Jones’ polyrhythmic flourishes followed by Novak’s percussive chords stating the main theme. Jones thumps and thuds with lithe sophistication during his turn in the spotlight, while Novak and Hochberg rebuild the piece with their refreshingly crisp and delightfully clever phraseology.
The camaraderie among the members of the group and their virtuosity on their respective instruments is what makes this record highly enjoyable and stimulating. On the boppish “Minority” for instance, they build a collective, effervescent and buoyant sonic backdrop. Out of this simmering melee they take turns emerging with breathtakingly mercurial and brilliant individual expressions.
It is incomprehensible why an artist as talented as Novak has gone this long without recording. This rewarding, delectable disc goes a long way in correcting Novak’s undeserved underexposure.