Too many empty seats greeted Steve Koven’s performance last week at Frank Collymore Hall. This was unfortunate because not only did those who were absent miss him playing the hammers and strings from inside the imposing and magnificent black Steinway piano, they also missed a fiery, dynamic set from CiCi. Adjusting his seat so his bare feet could reach the pedals, Koven started off the one-hour music journey with a trip to Bogota, a song he wrote after a trip to Colombia. A haunting but melodic song, it’s slightly reminiscent of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. With one hand he played uptempo notes while the other hand tickled the keys, producing a thrilling sound. He followed this up with a trip to Barbados, a country he has visited over five times. Bajan Song was composed a couple of years ago, inspired by a painting of a steel band by Hubert Brathwaite. Lively and energetic, it was right at home in the Hall, conjuring up images of a dooflicky. He then travelled many miles to China, creating Resurgence from the Chinese traditional pentagon scale, playing only the black keys with flat hands. It didn’t hurt that he did two jazz standards from Duke Ellington – Caravan and Take The A Train. On the former he did the unexpected, showing the versatility of an instrument that is more than keys and hammers. He went inside the piano lid, titillating the audience with sounds of a harp, a violin and metal gongs, eliciting oohs and aahs from those gathered. The A Train ride was exhilarating, fast-paced, Koven slamming the keys, the whole thing building up tonally till it couldn’t get any higher . . . like an unstoppable locomotive. The tribute to his wife, Luscious Lady Lil, showed up next as a soft ballad, very slow, deliberate and lush. Koven’s fingers tickled and caressed the keys with tender affection. He merged Miles Davis’ Blue And Green with Besame Mucho, a great improv move. To watch Steven Koven play is a treat – seeing his hands poised, ready to take the next solo, watching his eyes calculating where he wants to go with it and then seeing him dive into it full speed without hesitation. And his foot tapping is also very contagious. The cosy confines of the Hall provided the perfect environment for experiencing Koven’s fluid and expressive playing and CiCi’s mesmerizing, emotive ballads. Losing her earrings didn’t throw off the delightful blonde-haired singer who gave a luscious interpretation of Honeysuckle Rose and Koven matched her note for note, giving her space to do her thing. She and Koven had just met – but music is a universal language. Body And Soul was a gutsy piece, with CiCi holding notes for long stretches. She went funky on Route 66, a bit of scatting and a bit of swing tempo, catching the audience up in its momentum, enhanced by Koven’s expert showmanship. CiCi then took us to Georgia and they both had fun with this one, which the audience loved, interrupting with cheers and applause. Koven finished off the show with an audience request of St Thomas. A well schooled player, the pianist is from a musical family and has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in music from York University and has worked with a variety of great musicians. Steve has been teaching contemporary improvisation as well as jazz piano at York University since 2003. In addition to teaching at York University, he has also conducted educational master classes in China, Japan, Colombia, Mexico, Barbados and The Bahamas. In 1993 the Steve Koven Trio was established and has since toured extensively around the world and has released nine CDs, the latest last month. “I don’t like the term jazz player. It is too broad. I’m a musician who likes creating . . . improvising,” he said in an interview just before taking the stage. Steve also plays sax, violin, drums and guitar. He stated that his travels had broadened his vision of music: “I get to learn about cultures and expose my music to the world. I also use those cultures when I’m writing my songs.” Koven’s one-hour presentation showed that musicians play when they work.