CD review

Niels Lan Doky – “River of Time”

Niels Lan Doky – River of Time
(Inner Adventures. CD Review by Rob Adams)

Danish-Vietnamese pianist Niels Lan Doky first appeared on UK jazz listeners’ radar in an international quartet of Berklee music students with the, at the time, 17-year-old Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, in 1984.

Lan Doky was a little older, around 21, but it was no surprise that he went on to work with the distinguished list of musicians cited in the accompanying press release, which begins with Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Al Foster, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, and Ray Brown, and continues at considerable length.

His playing then was already superbly accomplished and 40-some albums into his career as a leader, he’s a master with a great variety of touches, absolute control of pacing, and the ability to draw on the history of jazz piano history and cross-fertilise it with his own ideas.

Although other instruments and devices figure, including synth pads, drum programming and added percussion, River of Time essentially carries on the piano trio tradition. Every track, with the possible exception of the exuberant, flamenco-like piano-tambourine-bass drum feature Are You Coming With Me?, would transfer effortlessly to the standard trio format and on record, they combine to whet the appetite for a live outing.

Lan Doky’s colleagues here, bassist Tobias Dall and drummer Niclas Bardeleben, are both next-generation fellow Danes, and as regular trio partners with the pianist they dance and groove in sync naturally. The McCoy-ish ostinato of the opening Pink Buddha allows Lan Doky to demonstrate his pearly tone and quick-fire imagination as Dall holds down the groove assertively and Bardeleben’s drums skip lightly but surely. River of Time itself is more mellow, with a suggestion of Latin American flavours, and Greasy Sauce digs big time into the Billy Taylor school of gospel music’s influence on jazz.

The ballads – Sita’s Mood, World Peace and Hope 2020 – could easily lend their themes to the film world or even work as pop song melodies while also being vehicles for Lan Doky’s expertly-plotted solo building, and Houellebecq, written for French best-selling author Michel Houellebecq, combines Lan Doky’s liking for twisting, well-developed melodic progressions with Monkish wit and the trio’s relaxed-at-pace team work.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable disc from a musician whose enjoyment in finding new inspiration while honouring the tradition shines out emphatically in his music.

LINK: Lockdown interview with Niels Lan Doky 

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