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by Ian Mann

December 28, 2020


Karkauskas is a superb technician, albeit without drawing attention to the fact, and his compositions, though far from simple, are both beautiful and accessible.

Gediminas Karkauskas

“Lost Suite”

(Teddy D Records TDCD004)

Gediminas Karkauskas – Piano

A slightly belated look at this solo piano album from Gediminas Karkauskas, a Lithuanian born pianist and composer now based in the Republic of Ireland.

Karkauskas studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague before completing his Masters at Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama.

Dublin has remained Karkauskas’ base for the last twenty years but he has continued to perform regularly in mainland Europe, particularly in the Baltic states and notably at the Broma Jazz Festival in his native Lithuania.

Karkauskas has also performed with leading figures on the Irish jazz scene, among them trumpeter Linley Hamilton, drummer Stephen Davis, bassist Dave Fleming and the late, great Louis Stewart (guitar). He has also worked with fellow pianist John Taylor (1942 – 2015).

Karkauskas is a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps. He has cited Debussy, Brahms and Chopin as his favourite classical composers, while his jazz influences include Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill. Despite growing up in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipėda during the Soviet era Karkauskas was first introduced to jazz by his father, who was a fan of such musicians as Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.

Aside from his musical influences Karkuaskas has also cited the importance of contemporary art as an inspiration for his work.

Released in September 2020 “Lost Suite” represents Karkauskas’ recording début as a leader. He has previously led a trio featuring Davis and Fleming but for this project decided to translate some of his compositions for solo piano.

“I have spent years creating jazz / classical influences with improvisation within a contemporary jazz framework”, Karkauskas explains. “I would say I have become more open to share my music with the listener”.

He continues;
“There were ideas that sat in my mind for some time. I was trying to reflect my inner thoughts, that inevitably led to reflecting the world’s music through my own perception. Most of the pieces have very little preparation, it’s mostly relying on momentum, while others have been prepared.”

As Karkauskas has explained the music draws upon both jazz and classical influences with Bill Evans perhaps the most obvious stylistic influence. Karkauskas describes the recording as a “concept album”, despite the fact that “Lost Suite” is also the title of one of the six individual tracks. Certainly a unified mood and stylistic approach characterises an album that has been extremely well received by the international jazz community.

The album commences with “Lost Suite” itself, a nine minute excursion that unfolds slowly and organically, with Karkauskas primarily concerned with expressing moods and emotions, rather than focussing on bravado displays of technique. Karkauskas describes the album as “a journey”, an expression that can also be said to apply to each individual piece. The progression of the harmony on this opening composition is intended to express a “sense of being lost”, but the performance is still clearly focussed and delivers a good balance of light and shade. Despite an underlying sense of darkness the music is still unmistakably beautiful and curiously restful, qualities that have perhaps contributed to the album’s critical success.

“Talking Summer” is more concise, clocking in at around the four minute mark, but retains the essentially pensive mood, the languid nature of Karkauskas’ playing perhaps reminiscent of a humid but relaxing summer afternoon. The pianist’s gentle melodic trills exhibit a classically honed lightness of touch, and although the music is never about ‘showing off’ Karkauskas’ impressive technical facility is never in doubt.

Slightly darker in tone “The Blame Rests” places a greater reliance on minor chords, these contrasting effectively with the pianist’s right hand melodic flourishes. The structure of the piece is unusual, with unexpected variations in meter that help to ensure that the listener’s attention is engaged throughout.

I love the enigmatic nature of the title “Not To Sugar Coat What Has Gone On Here”, a fascinating pianist exploration that finds Karkauskas gently wandering through a consistently intriguing series of musical byways, again deploying far from predictable chords and melodies, to ensure that the listener is keen to follow every step of the way.

The quietly brooding “Alias” introduces a subtle blues tinge to the pianist’s classically inspired ruminations. Apart from its unpredictability Karkauskas’ music is also distinguished by its effective use of space, a quality emphasised by the pinpoint production by Karkauskas and recording engineer Arne Bock. An engineer with an international reputation Bock studied at The Hague at the same time as Karkauskas and the pair have enjoyed a long and fruitful creative relationship.

This quality of spaciousness is even more pronounced on the closing “Take Nothing”, which unfolds slowly, lyrically and organically and which exhibits a truly meditative beauty.

It’s easy to hear just why “Lost Suite” has attracted such favourable attention. Karkauskas is a superb technician, albeit without drawing attention to the fact, and his compositions, though far from simple, are both beautiful and accessible. Indeed it’s the harmonic and rhythmic complexities that help to engage the listener’s attention, but again these are introduced in a manner that sounds unforced and thoroughly organic – there is nothing gratuitous about them at all.

The only criticisms that have been levelled at the album are that it is too consistent in terms of mood, style and pace. Ordinarily this would represent a perfectly valid observation, but the fact that Karkauskas has described “Lost Suite” as a ‘concept’ album with a unified overall mood and theme counters the credence of this statement.

For jazz listeners Bill Evans is the most obvious reference point and evidence of Karkauskas’ classical background is evident throughout. “Lost Suite” represents a considerable success on its own terms, but it would be interesting hear Karkauskas’ playing in a more obviously ‘jazz’ context next time round.


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