How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
There are times when one comes across a relatively unknown talent or group, whose performance leaves quite a lasting impression, as does young pianist/songwriter RJ and his group, The Assignment. A native of Chicago who has performed throughout the country over the last fifteen years, RJ has since settled in Las Vegas, where his shining debut, Deceiving Eyes, was recorded. Though he boasts influences from Bill Evans
, among others, RJ has also been comfortable performing in classical, R&B, funk and other non-jazz contexts.
This album is a remarkably well-constructed and unique interpretation of some jazz standards, blended together with a selection of originals and one hip-hop hitall presented in a modern jazz style with a touch of R&B, hip-hop and Gospel influences. While playing in a quartet format, also featuring tenor saxophonist Julian Tanaka on two tracks, the majority of the eleven-piece repertoire is performed in a traditional piano trio setting, using seven players on different tracks and vocalist Jeanine Smith on the finale, "Where RU."
Accompanied by bassist Scott Teeple and drummer Paul Ringenbach on the first four pieces, the music starts tripping the light fantastic on Hancock's classic "Dolphin Dance," keeps swinging with Tanaka's saxophone lead on the original "I Took A Chance On Loving You," and continues to sizzle with RJ's dazzling performance on the M*A*S*H theme, "Suicide Is Painless." The pianist turns on the charm and displays his incredible chops on the keys with a blistering performance and brilliant treatment Frank Churchill's familiar "Someday My Prince Will Come."
The hard-driving, R&B texture of "New Beginnings" begins to usher in a new set of sounds delivered by the new crew of bassist Jason Bolden and drummer Terry Wesley II on the next five pieces. RJ and crew produce a groovy sound on Cedar Walton
's "Bolivia" and are simply masterful on the original title track, but takes it one step further on Pharrell Williams' hip-hop hit, "Frontin,'" enhanced by Wesley's strong drumming and a slice of the keyboards sound. The set starts to wind down with more R&B sounds on the original "Winter In Chicago," and closes with the beautiful "Where R U," featuring RJ on keyboards and Smith briefly singing the song's name in the intro.
An obviously talented pianist and songwriter, RJ emerges from obscurity with his exciting debut, Deceiving Eyes, laying down the varied sounds of R&B and other genres with lush lyricism, all wrapped up in a modern styled jazz album that is, quite frankly, deceivingly good.
Track Listing: Dolphin Dance; I Took A Chance On Loving You; Suicide Is Painless; Someday My Prince Will Come; Total Praise; New Beginnings; Bolivia; Deceiving Eyes; Frontin'; Winter In Chicago; Where R U.
Personnel: RJ: piano, keyboards; Julian Tanaka: tenor saxophone (2, 7); Paul Ringenbach: drums (1-4); Terry Wesley II: drums (6, 8-11); Kenneth Logan: drums (7); Scott Teeple: acoustic bass (1-4); Mariko Kitada: acoustic bass (7); Jason Bolden: electric bass (6-11); Jeanine Smith: vocals (11).