Dave Kikoski – Persistent Dreams (1991)

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NICK DERISO: Skid past the first few tracks — an overcooked original, then a couple of snoozers that are just too obvious in their modern cliche — and Dave Kikoski began to live up to his producer’s persistent tips of the hat.

That would be Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker, who wrote the liner notes. He stumbled across Kikoski doing a set at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood with trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Peter Erskine — a straight-ahead show. Becker spent some time raving about him, then helped fashion this debut on Triloka.

Inexplicably, it doesn’t try to rekindle those smoking days with Brecker and Erskine, and the misstep marred what otherwise should have been a celebrated disc.

See, Kikoski, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, came into these sessions with his trad resume in order. He had appeared on Brecker’s “In the Idiom” disc for Denon, and later was part of “Live at Sweet Basil’s” on Sonet, the trio album “Presage” from the Freeland label in France and Red Rodney’s “Red Alert,” among others. But this was his first domestic release as a leader.

It’s a pity “Persistent Dreams” didn’t begin with the fourth cut, John Coltrane’s “Satellite.” Now, it is still presented with a modern sheen, but in a far more palatable electronic modal style. Tenor man Dave Jenson added some kindling, then dropped out for the terrific synth-drum bridge.

Only then did Kikoski’s record really catch fire — even as it moved confidently away from a rote, contemporary airiness. Check out impassioned takes on Wayne Shorter’s “Toy Tune” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling in Love with Love,” the album’s high point. Kikoski, I’m also happy to report, later found room in a few better-presented originals for more thoughtful licks.

Kikoski’s pal Brecker, for instance, was impressive on the Rodgers and Hart tune as part of a quintet arrangement, making up for a wasted trip on mute through the rather bland “Train of Thought” early on. Kikoski cooks on “Falling in Love with Love,” too. Cecile Tenconi, his Argentinian wife, added a Latin tinge to “Green Trees,” another fine original that features the largest group, a sextet.

Kikoski concludes with a flourish on the solo title track, perfectly illustrating both his own lyrical strengths as a pianist and why this album is so hard to completely recommend — despite its considerable joys.

“Persistent Dreams” is a half-expressed thought — one that seems like it could have been brilliant, but unfinished nevertheless.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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