Luis Perdomo, Spike Wilner, and Leslie Pintchik, decidedly different pianists, have at least one thing in common: each has recently released an engaging new album and finds an approach to their instrument to match their artistic vision.
A painter who deals in lush, dark colors, pianist Luis Perdomo gives full rein to his commanding artistry on the beautifully recorded Montage, his first solo release, calling on all of the piano’s dynamic and sonic possibilities. Straddling the worlds of the spirit and the flesh, Perdomo finds his voice in a visceral impressionism, as comfortable in luminous harmonies suggestive of early-20th-century French composers as in the earthy rhythms of Latin America. His program combines standards, originals, and a set of five “Montages,” free improvisations on different subjects. (Check out the evocatively catatonic bass line in “Montage: Sleepwalker.”) He approaches “Monk’s Dream” with a muscular, dreamy Latin feel shot through with the composer’s characteristic minor seconds. Three tunes recalling his Caracas childhood resonate deeply: “Mambo Mongo” dances from the word go with a funky flair; Perdomo’s exceptional touch produces the breathless anticipation of “Si te contara;” and “La Revuelta de Don Fulgencio,” which features a stunning separation between his hands, makes you wonder what Scarlatti would have sounded like had he settled in Venezuela instead of Spain. Perdomo’s hands are so independent that they operate almost like two different voices throughout the album. It’s especially noticeable on the counterpoint of “Cal Massey,” which has an almost classical feel. Perdomo’s tender “Amani” showcases his ability to brighten and darken the mood at will. Fittingly, the album ends with a particularly lush reading of “Body and Soul,” on which Perdomo explores the pleasures of the flesh and the spirit.
Pianist Spike Wilner brings a refreshing lack of pretention to his work on the trio recording Koan, with bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. There’s something so easygoing and unassuming in his playing and his compositions that you can’t help but like the man, and the jaunty opener, his original composition “Iceberg Slim,” captures you right at the start. The title track poses thornier questions, which Wilner and his mates answer with a swinging rhythm, quotes from Fats Waller (Wilner’s stride background peeks out here and there throughout the album), and the pianist’s clean, percussive, rippling right hand. That right hand is the main star of these proceedings, but it’s his left that keeps his “Trick Baby” rolling with its echoes of stride and that shapes his lines in Noel Coward’s “I’ll See You Again.” The selections include a hymnlike rendition of Ellington’s “Warm Valley” and a dancing version of the Duke’s “Gypsy without a Song,” and the trio swings on Tadd Dameron’s finger-breaker “Hot House.” Wilner’s harmonically unsettled “Monkey Mind,” with some very nice counterpoint, explores edgier neighborhoods after a dreamy opening, and his dark, searching, gnarly “Three Ring Circus” is perfectly balanced by the trio’s whimsical take on Johnny Richards’ “Young at Heart.” Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” begins with mystery and moves through compassion and celebration before retiring once again to contemplate the mystery. Wilner’s anthemic “Blues for the Common Man” closes the proceedings with a determined optimism, with each chorus finding a fresh expression of fellow feeling.
The first time I heard Leslie Pintchik, on her album In the Nature of Things, I was struck by “the piercing intelligence behind her musical conceptions, the muscular grace of her playing, and her supple emotional expression.” The 10 tracks—6 originals and 4 standards—on her new album, True North, indicate that nothing has changed, except that her band has gotten even tighter than it was back in 2014. That’s Steve Wilson (soprano and alto sax) and Ron Horton (trumpet and flugelhorn) on the five sextet tracks; Scott Hardy (bass; special shout out to Hardy for his horn arrangements), Michael Sarin (drums), and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) on those tracks plus four quartet tracks. The opening original, “Let’s Get Lucky,” provides a perfect example of her delicate but firm touch and the band’s deep commitment to groove. There’s exuberance, intelligence, and groove aplenty in her “Just Sayin’,” and Pintchik’s jolly “Crooked as a Dog’s Leg” is motivated by her sure rhythmic sense and willingness to have fun. The title track, the album’s centerpiece, is a study in dynamic equilibrium—as centered and certain as the north star and a sure antidote to whatever anxiety might be plaguing you. There’s a gentle reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” whose repeating melody gets colored by changing harmonies. Pintchik’s take on “Falling in Love Again” sets the original 3/4 melody to a 4/4 swing feel. As she says in the press release, “That loosened the tendons of the melody, and also allowed for a more subtle harmonization.” I did say “piercing intelligence,” didn’t I? Her storyteller side comes out on the richly harmonized “Charade,” on which she performs a similar transformation from 3/4 to 4/4, but with a straight-eighth Latin feel. The album closes with “For All We Know,” in trio format recorded live at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. She gives the tune such a tender, luminous reading, with nuanced use of her pedals and a touch of funk from her band mates. Never maudlin, they celebrate its message of taking the joy that the moment gives because the moment may not come again.
© 2016 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.