|Gary Walters takes care of business.|
Long known for a variety of teaching and performing activity as a locally based jazz keyboard maestro, Gary Walters comes up with a new studio recording of trios made since COVID-19 upended so many lives.
"The COVID Sessions" (available through the website linked above) reflects his taking advantage of the relative idleness enforced upon many active musicians as the concert scene dried up early last year.
He brings back some original tunes and revives jazz pieces he likes, plus a couple of Great American Songbook standards. He divides the chosen repertoire between trios with Thomas Brinkley and Chris Pyle on five tracks, Peter Hansen and Gene Markiewicz on three. And there's one duo track each with bassists Hansen and Brinkley.
Walters has a mainstream sensibility, but exhibits plenty of ideas for putting his personal stamp on the music. The trio's introduction to "Monk's Dream," for instance, is captivating in its sandpapery dissonance before Thelonious Monk's tune gets under way. The eccentricity of the composer is there, but the trio also shows how rooted Monk was in straight-ahead swing; this is confirmed by the neat dialogue between cymbals and drums in Markiewicz's solo.
Melody has always been a strong aspect of Walters' playing, and when he and Brinkley apply their personalities to Bill Evans' "One for Helen," the charm is infectious. There is always variety in the pianist's stylistic approach: He comes up with a florid intro to Cole Porter's "I Love You," then fashions chipper, slightly laconic phrasing for the tune itself. Hansen lays down a soaring bass solo.
As for the set-closer, the tender evergreen "My Foolish Heart," it's worth mentioning that Hansen, a veteran member of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra double-bass section, is one of the few jazz bassists I've heard who is thoroughly presentable when he picks up the bow, never wandering out of tune. Often, some great jazz players who pluck with authority tend to draw winces from the listener in their arco work.
Duke Ellington's "African Flower" ushers in a slightly exotic atmosphere, with greater pedal resonance from the piano and Pyle's soft-spoken drive relying on hands rather than sticks. (Pyle's distinctive art work adorns the disc's cover, too.) The other borrowed tune not yet mentioned is another Bill Evans gem, "G Waltz."
A cheerful etude-like feeling pervades "Schelle Intermezzo," which Walters describes as something he wrote on a break from fulfilling a composition assignment during studies in the century's first decade with Butler University composer-in-residence Michael Schelle.
Further drollery, affectionate and never too clever for its own good, can be found in "Izzy Baby," a tribute to the Walters household's "first dog" and "an effort to capture her moods." Brinkley and Pyle fully buy into the portrait of a bounding canine companion. The performance is typical of the rapport Walters naturally achieves with his band mates — whether in the studio during COVID or (once again, it is expected) — out and about on the concert bandstand. "The COVID Sessions" sums up an era for Walters and can be looked at as a launching pad for the reopening of live performance.