Mao may have been right about the many roads to socialism, but there are a lot more ways to get to jazz. No better evidence can be offered than the playing of pianist Andrei Kitaev, who left the Soviet Union 10 years ago in quest of America's most original creative product.
Working a one-nighter at Catalina's Bar and Grill on Wednesday night, Kitaev demonstrated that a decade of "Moscow on the Hudson"-like experiences has given him a surprisingly solid foundation in jazz. His style, which varied from Bill Evans' lyricism to McCoy Tyner rhythmics, did not yet appear to be fully matured, but it revealed few of the awkward uncertainties common to musicians who come to jazz from intensive classical backgrounds.
Kitaev--who was accompanied on short notice by bassist John Clayton and drummer Steve Houghton--was especially effective on ballads. Thad Jones' lovely "A Child Is Born" and the familiar standard "Body and Soul" were lovingly enriched by harmonic voicings so lush that they sometimes had the substance of an Ellingtonesque saxophone section.
His middle tempo work--on "Joy Spring" and "Stolen Moments," in particular--was almost as good, most notably when it began to move with a rocking swing that totally belied the fact that Kitaev's rehearsal with his two accompanists consisted of little more than a friendly handshake.
The pianist's up-tempo pieces, and his single-note lines, in particular, were less effective. His evolution as an improviser, rapid as it has been, has not yet taken him past a tendency to fall back on exercise-type patterns in his high-speed improvisations.
But Kitaev seems to have found a route to jazz that is rapidly expanding into a full-fledged freeway. If he can get his music up to full speed, his journey just might be another all-American success.