Neither of these gents featured on this disc are, strictly speaking, "jazz" composers - yet, their music would be vastly different without the spirit of jazz coursing through their respective frames of reference, and they in turn influenced jazz (directly or indirectly). Conlon Nancarrow is famous for his no-human-could-play-them compositions for player-piano, but his pieces here are for the "regular" piano. I would love to give a "blindfold test" with his "Blues" to some jazz fans - it’s positively Ellingtonian, with its spaciousness and wry, elegant take on the blues - the notes practically stick to pianist Herbert Henck’s fingers. Ragtime is also an influence - but where some "art music" composers have drawn upon Ragtime, sometimes it comes across as "gee-isn’t-this-American-music-quaint" or corny. On these short pieces Antheil and Nancarrow have absorbed the essence and spirit of ragtime, rather than "incorporating" it whole. Antheil’s "Jazz Sonata" sounds a bit like.... imagine what Keith Jarrett might’ve sounded like in 1923 (when it was written).
"Sonata Sauvage" anticipates aspects of Phillip Glass’ minimalism and the percussive approaches of jazz pianists such as McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, Dave Brubeck and Myra Melford. Pianist Herbert Henck plays with muscular vigor and flair and treats these pieces - like a jazz pianist - with a fine balance of veneration and boldness, infusing it with some of the fecund abandon - and the Swing - of The Jazz Age while forgoing any notions of soppy "nostalgia." To top it off, Piano Music is lively and fun, not just a dry, academic history lesson. If you think "classical" music is supposed to be boring, or if you like the aforementioned jazz pianists, Piano Music is an essential purchase.