It's a mystery why some artists reach positions of prominence and others don't. Sometimes it's more about being in the right place at the right time than specific musical criteria like aptitude, creativity, and a distinctive personal approach. Since moving to New York in '88, pianist Bob Rodriguez has managed to create a niche through performing, as well as teaching at a variety of notable schools like Julliard. More often than not, however, he finds himself visiting Austin, Texas, where for 25 years the Creative Opportunity Orchestra has been the premiere organization in the American southwest to provide a large collective of musicians the opportunity to explore composition and improvisation in larger contexts.
It's been over a decade since Rodriguez's first release as a leader, the '94 Nine Winds trio date, Mist. And that's a shame, because based on the strength of Corridor, his long-overdue trio followup on the Creative Opportunity imprint, he's a player and composer who deserves a lot more attention. His partners have made their own mark on jazz as well. Mike Richmond is a name that you somehow don't seem to hear often, yet the bassist has performed on well over a hundred dates with artists as diverse as Hubert Laws, Jack DeJohnette, and Stan Getz. Drummer Eliot Zigmund may have a smaller discography, but he has made his name as a sympathetic collaborator in piano trios with Bill Evans, Art Lande, and Michel Petrucciani.
Corridor demonstrates the kind of graceful intent and keen yet refined imagination that, if talent were the sole criterion, would see Rodriguez considered in the same breath as artists like Brad Mehldau and Tord Gustavsen. The pianist has evolved from the school of usual suspectsthe romanticism of Bill Evans, the abstraction of Herbie Hancock, and the stream of consciousness compositional thinking of Keith Jarrett. But despite the evocative impact of his lyricism, it reveals a deeper complexity on further investigation that's equally reminiscent of Marc Copland.
His surfaces may be smooth and his edges rounded, but that doesn't mean his approach is lightweight. Whether on original compositions like the ethereal "It's Not That Dark and the melancholy yet strangely hopeful "Inside, or so radically reinventing standards like Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss that one has to search hard for the almost iconic melody, Rodriguez's strength lies in his ability to create a cohesive language that blurs the line between the familiar and the unfamiliar. His elegant vernacular, imbued with a distinctive sense of melody and rich harmony that straddles the explicit and the implicit, makes the programme of four originals, three standards, and one reworked classical piece blend into a narrative where everything feels like it comes from the same pen.
And while the trio hints at powerits take on Coltrane's "Naima builds to a kind of understated crescendoit tends toward restraint without constraint. Like Gustavsen, Rodriguez's power lies in his subtlety, and Corridor magically continues to reveal more with every listen.
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Personnel: Bob Rodriguez: piano; Mike Richmond: bass; Elliot Zigmund: drums.