Picks and Pans Review: The Name Is Makowicz
Makowicz, 43, was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in Poland, where as a teenager he listened to Voice of America jazz broadcasts and, at 16, gave up his classical piano studies. He became one of Europe's most successful jazz musicians and in 1977, with the encouragement of Columbia Records superproducer John Hammond, performed in the United States for the first time. (Hammond, whose jazz associations date back to Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman, has called Makowicz "the most astonishing pianistic talent of the past 30 years.") Makowicz now lives in New York while maintaining his Polish citizenship (despite having performed for the benefit of Solidarity). He has been widely praised by American critics, and certainly no one has questioned his technical virtuosity. There is, though, a certain coldness to his style at times. The notes are right but the feeling seems off; it's like someone who, even though he knows all the idioms of a foreign language, has an occasional problem deciding when and how to use them. This album overcomes a lot of those objections for two reasons. One is that seven of the eight tracks are Makowicz' own compositions, for which he naturally has more passion than the American standards he often plays. His A-Flat Elegy (for Earl Hines) is a touching and gentle tribute that salutes the late Fatha without mimicking him, and Bop do Combo lets Makowicz use his classical training in a controlled jazz setting. (His improvisations often turn into dizzying successions of runs-dazzling for their dexterity but without much heart.) The album's other attractive quality is the presence of veteran saxophonist Phil Woods, the first horn man Makowicz has ever recorded with in America. Woods at times threatens to become The Sax Man Who Came to the Studio, so dominating things that it's easy to forget whose group this is supposed to be. But he also provides a balance and contrast for Makowicz that make the pianist's own playing sound deeper and more human. Their give and take on Cole Porter's You Do Something to Me and Makowicz' Moondust makes for the best kind of ensemble jazz. Makowicz (pronounced mah-KO-vitch) has already established himself here but, thanks to the freshness and verve of this album, he deserves a renewed welcome. (Sheffield Lab, P.O. Box 5332, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93108)
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