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ONCE AGAIN NERO SIZZLES WHILE AUDIENCE LEARNS

With some pianists you get jazzed-up classics. With Peter Nero you get classiced-up jazz. Or at least that was the impression left by Friday night's Utah Symphony concert.

Actually it was more of a Peter Nero concert, as once again the multitalented performer held the stage, and his audience, from first note to last.The first came by way of the orchestra, as Nero the conductor struck them up in a big, brassy arrangement - not his own - of George Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band."

After that, though, every note was Nero's, whether as arranger or pianist, as his steely fingers bore down imaginatively on everything from Richard Rodgers' "Mountain Greenery," here strongly percussive with a jazzy rhythmic spark, to a 20-minute improvisation on "whatever else Gershwin wrote."

And the classics? Well, what was introduced as "a tribute to Beethoven, with a little help from Cole Porter" worked its way from the former's "Moonlight" Sonata to the latter's "Night and Day." After which Nero's merry-go-round-like "Phantom Phantasy" interwove 15 minutes' worth of that show's hits with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor and, at the climax, Ravel's "La Valse."

(Along the way we were also reminded that the falling intervals of "The Music of the Night" are identical to those of "School Days.")

Clarinetist Christie Lundquist got a workout by way of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," as did the trumpets in a hopped-up segue to "For Once in My Life."

Gershwin resurfaced in a hard-rocking set of variations on "I Got Rhythm" - here Nero's, as distinct from the composer's own - that included sidelong glances at Beethoven (the "Waldstein" Sonata), Mozart (the "Rondo alla Turca") and Liszt ("Liebestraum"). "A real test for oxygen," the pianist cracked beforehand.

This was followed by a Duke Ellington medley - himself something of a classic - that may not always have been as elegant as the original but churned up a fair amount of excitement via the locomotive rhythms of Nero's arrangement of "Take the A Train."

The second half began with two Jerome Kern evergreens - "Long Ago and Far Away" and "All the Things You Are" - the first fitted out with a Scriabin-ish introduction and some ornate elaboration on its deceptively simple theme.

However, these were as nothing compared with the Gershwin sequence, during which Nero and trio members Michael Barnett and Steve Pemberton really strutted their stuff.

That included the Art Tatum-like speed and intricacy the pianist brought to "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and "Liza," Barnett's inventive bass solos in an extended treatment of "A Foggy Day" and Pemberton's solid drumming in "Somebody Loves Me."

But for all the clever transitions (including one that touched on Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King"), the part that had symphony members themselves nodding along was Nero's cadenza-like romp through "The Man I Love." After which they got to get in a few licks themselves by way of a driving "Porgy and Bess" finish.

It wasn't quite the end, however, as Nero returned with an encore, something he claimed was a newly discovered manuscript of Mozart's that, despite the 18th-century-isms, sounded a lot like "The Yellow Rose of Taxes" - oops, I mean "Texas."

I must have had my mind on something else.