Music Review: Giorgi Mikadze Trio builds engaging musical bridge linking jazz to Eastern Europe

This cover image released by PeeWee! shows "Face to Face" by Giorgi Mikadze Trio. (PeeWee! via AP)

The Giorgi Mikadze Trio’s new jazz album ends with a bit of studio conversation before Mikadze finally says, “Let’s start,” as if the group is just getting going.

The album title implies the same, and “Face to Face: Georgian Songbook Vol. 1” will leave listeners wanting more. The set is distinctive, thanks to the performances and source material, which includes pieces by seven composers from the country of Georgia. Most of the music was originally written for film, animation and theatrical soundtracks.

Mikadze is a Georgia native who studied in the United States, and “Face to Face” is his first record leading a traditional piano jazz trio. He’s joined by two Frenchmen, bassist François Moutin and drummer Raphaël Pannier, and together they build musical bridges that span borders, presenting a vibrant, dynamic set full of personality across a range of moods.

Especially charming are interpretations of Giya Kancheli’s “A Magic Egg” and Shota Milorava’s “Same Garden,” both compositions from 1970s animated films. “A Magic Egg” builds whimsically on a simple recurring figure, while “Same Garden” evokes Broadway, with Pannier’s propulsive percussion leading Mikadze into exhilarating improvisational explorations.

Pannier is a wonder of nuance and invention. His rhythms lap against the melody on Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s “Dolls Are Laughing,” giving the tune’s 6/8 rhythm and Latin influences. On “Wind Takes It Anyway,” a pop song by Rusudan Sebiskveradze, the drums and piano engage in entertaining interplay, with melodic percussion skittering against the shimmering tune.

The trio transforms a simple melody on Jansug Kakhidze’s ballad “The Moon Over Mtatsminda,” creating swirls of sound and swells of emotion. Equally lovely is a plaintive rendition of Nodar Gabunia’s “To Nodar,” constructed using virtually no beat but thick chords.

Three compositions by Mikadze fit well with the covers. “Nana” sways through stops and starts, and an elusive pulse and spinning syncopation distinguish “Satchidao,” Mikadze’s reinterpretation of a tune sung during wrestling matches.

“After the Tale” has classical strains, and following an opening piano solo, the dialogue between instruments gradually becomes more animated and morphs into a marvelous maelstrom.

For Mikadze and his trio, “Face to Face” is a terrific start.


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