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The Baldwin grand at the new Dizzy's got a heavy workout last night at the 2012 Piano Summit, whereupon eight masters approached the instrument on their own terms for a fascinating look at the state of the eighty-eight keys in San Diego.

I'm going to break this review into two parts: today I'll cover the first set:

Mikan Zlatkovich

The Serbian born Zlatkovich has long been one of my favorite local players. He arrived onstage with absolutely no idea what he was about to play, then began with a total re-imagining of a 1960s Campbell's Soup jingle that he transformed into milestone. Zlatkovich has an amazing touch, and he first posited lush harmonies into the air before creating a body of swing deep, and buoyant enough to float an aircraft carrier. Slipping into near-stride sections and tossing in blues fragments--his improvisation functioned as a stylistic kaleidoscope.

Next, he chose McCoy Tyner's "Fly With The Wind," a massive tour-de-force originally written for jazz trio plus strings and flute as a solo vehicle: ballsy. It paid off. Maximizing the reverberant nature of the room, Zlatkovich launched into the essence of the piece, by turns with churning trills and thundering intervals, refracting it into individual examinations of its salient components, focusing on them in a linear dissection. It was all very dramatic, and orchestral in nature, and by balancing a reflective calm with a kinetic fury, Zlatkovich left a lasting impression.

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Danny Green

Mr. Green has a classical background, and he called upon those skills often in his presentation, which opened with a dramatic reading of the Bill Evans standard, "Turn Out The Stars." Conjuring cloud-like harmonies, Green executed the melody with care, surrounding each phrase with rich voices and keeping a dream-state alive with a constant dynamic flow.

Having spent most of his time on the first piece, the pianist chose a short perusal through an original from his latest CD, A Thousand Ways Home, the delicate lullaby-like "Over Too Soon." The overall theme, appearing in multiple registers, wafted its way into the air hidden at times with rhapsodic flourishes and pastel colorations. His choice of such a soft-focus program though, did rob the audience of the opportunity to experience his mastery of rhythmic agitation, which was unfortunate.

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Barnaby Finch

Finch lives in Idyllwild now, so we don't get as much opportunity to appreciate his talent--when he does venture South, it's always a thrill. He chose a piece out of his Americana/Bluegrass book, "Snow," to open, and it was very evocative. Gentle waves of melodic information swirled around to establish the mood, as Heartland themes emerged. He got into some ecstatic eruptions worthy of the lyric side of Keith Jarrett, and broke up the diatonic nature of his piece with snippets of blues ornamentation.

A second piece, "Blues For Jay," began with decorative extensions before settling into a kind of quiet surge of boppish single-note exclamations with right-hand velocity orbiting around left-hand stabs of dominant harmony.

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Daniel Jackson

Jackson is one of the best tenor saxophonists I've ever heard--I've only been exposed to him as a pianist a few times. That being said, it's hard for me to imagine that the piano wasn't his first instrument, given the daunting facility he displayed.

Opening with "Body & Soul," he wrapped the melody in a series of ornaments, expanding and contracting the form like a breathing organism. He certainly didn't sound like a self-taught pianist as he navigated the difficult contours of the piece with a casual dexterity.

Closing with a blues, Jackson whittled down his left-hand bass lines to a pure essence--rollicking like a demon with a minimum of extra notes. He shot skeins of multinote alacrity into the room, and delineated the blues aesthetic at every turn with wicked trills and the gestures available to those with the wisdom of experience.

Tomorrow: Irving Flores, Joshua White, Anthony Davis and Richard Thompson.

All photos courtesy of Hiro Ikezi

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