Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The tree of jazz grows in Brooklyn: Two more fine releases, with special attention to pianists.

Pianists on the acoustic grand continue to flourish, with their individualism sailing beyond the keyboard flash of those who favor electronics (some of whom are also acoustic pianists, of course).
Rob Garcia: Profile of absorption in impressionism.

On Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, Dan Tepfer (familiar in Indianapolis from his victory in the 2007American Pianists Association's Jazz Fellowship Awards) continues his seasoned association with drummer Rob Garcia on "The Passion of Color." And John Chin leads a traditional piano trio (with bass and drums) in "Undercover," evincing something original to say as both writer and improviser.

John Chin's "Undercover" exposes a fresh voice.
Reminding attentive listeners that he thinks like one-quarter of a unit, "The Passion of Color" is properly attributable to the Rob Garcia 4.  Unlike many drummer-bandleaders, Garcia doesn't make a show of dominating, but he's always prominent.  It's his studio gig, but he plays as though he really enjoys the interaction with Noah Preminger, Joe Martin and Tepfer more than he does the spotlight. The drumming is flexible and participatory in spirit — qualities that his bandmates readily exemplify as well.

As a composer, Garcia focuses here on his responses to art and music of the impressionist type.  He draws on different parts of his repertoire as a drummer — different patterns, different timbral centers of the set — in the course of the nine tunes. Preminger's tart, yet fluent tenor saxophone seems just right for these clear-cut tributes to impressionism; bassist Joe Martin keeps his lines lively, the notes pouring out with a characteristic, bluesy "bend" to them.

Most of all, however, I appreciated once again Tepfer's wholehearted adaptability to another leader's compositional and ensemble personality. There is a lot of him to savor on this disc. On the title track, his solo is harmonically exploratory but never thickens too much, because he puts a lot of space between phrases. And  gestures that bring in other players' styles are inspired and well-integrated; especially exciting is the way, in "Lines in Impressions,"  he sets up an episode that channels his inner Don Pullen with "smashed" chords. It's one of my favorite piano solos so far on a 2014 jazz disc.

Chin has a style that's frequently laconic and whimsical; he can demonstrate he has a song in his heart without having to wear it on his sleeve.  With Orlando Le Fleming on bass and Dan Rieser on drums,  his trio offers some original thoughts on the Ellington chestnut "Caravan" as well as Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." That familiar ballad he subjects to a decorative account that acknowledges the tune's sentimentality without wallowing in it.

As a composer, there's a sturdy, long-phrased lyricism evident in the reflective "Seemingly" and, in "If For No One," a steely boplike evocation running throughout the song's Latin pulse.  In both of those tunes, incidentally, Le Fleming shows that capable basses don't need that often cherished fat tone; his is thin, poignant, yet firmly produced. Dan Rieser's drums are understated but hold everything together, making Chin's textural variety seem all more the more logically directed. The set also includes a couple of Wayne Shorter tunes, both capably reinterpreted, and it ends with a stimulating, rhythmically insightful treatment of John Coltrane's "Countdown."