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On 'Spring Garden,' Harold Danko channels Stravinsky, other influences


On his latest adventurous CD, “Spring Garden,” pianist and retired Eastman School of Music professor Harold Danko pays tribute to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Danko’s extensive liner notes leave no doubt about his fascination — obsession, really — with Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet score.

When “The Rite of Spring” premiered in Paris audiences and critics were not ready for Vaslav Nijinsky’s radical choreography and Stravinsky’s seemingly cacophonous music. But, over the subsequent century, the music has been widely recognized for its avant-garde brilliance. Many jazz artists, from Alice Coltrane to The Bad Plus, have interpreted it.

In the decades since Danko first heard it in the 1960s, he has pored over the orchestral score and four-hand piano score. All of Danko’s 10 original compositions on “Spring Garden,” released by SteepleChase Records, contain references to Stravinsky’s masterwork. Along the way, Danko also channels other musical influences, including tango, blues and standards.

Rich Perry’s tenor sax is a major presence throughout, taking a more pronounced melodic lead in contrast to Danko’s often impressionistic and abstract keyboard work. Bassist Jay Anderson contributes fine solos and, along with drummer Jeff Hirshfield, anchors the complex rhythms.

Ron Netsky is a contributing writer for CITY News.