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Late Night Piano

Late Night Piano: Don Pullen

by Seth Colter Walls

Late Night Piano: Don Pullen

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What's better company than piano music in the after-work hours? We say nothing, and so we're giving you a series covering key piano innovators, which you can follow here.

This week we’re excited to investigate the music of Don Pullen -- the rare kind of pianist who could prove as eloquent with melody as when playing “out there.” Even better, he was apt to do both in the same performance, as you can hear on the tune that kicks off our playlist. “Perserverance,” in the space of a few short minutes, does justice to its gospel-harmony source material -- yet toward the back half, Pullen indulges in some truly dissonant (and exuberant) improvisation. Next we move on to a fully percussive track, the energizing, bracing “Conversation” between Pullen and percussionist Don Moye (taken from the Milano Strut album).

We’re not gonna lie, “Conversation” is the hard stuff. But on the other side of that powerhouse playing, you’ve got more gorgeousness in store, with Pullen’s original tune “Gratitude.” As you move through our playlist, your ears may begin to hear harmony and dissonance somewhat differently. Pullen’s style is, in short, a proposition that says atonality need pose no mortal threat to lyricism. That they can exist side by side.

The way Pullen moves between those poles was appreciated by no less a figure than Charles Mingus, who drafted Pullen into the group that recorded the bassist’s two Changes LPs in the mid-1970s. (Pullen gets off wild solos in “Black Bats and Poles,” and also in the exquisite extended composition “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue.”) So click play, check out some of Pullen’s career peaks, and make sure to come back to catch up with our series once again.

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