"Concept" albums are commonplace in jazz these days, and some artists seem to release nothing but. On the best of these, the idea behind the record adds depth and cohesion to the music within, but too often we end up with weak conceits masking lack of invention (think about all the ". . .plays Jobim", or ". . .does showtunes" CDs in the racks). The new album by Philadelphia pianist Jim Ridl, Door In A Field , is an example of the former happy category.
Working in a trio format with bassist Daryl Hall and drummer Mark Walker, and aided by a string trio on several tracks, Ridl has composed and performed a heartfelt tribute to his parents, who raised him and his siblings on a North Dakota farm. Indeed, the project is quite a family affair, with Kathy Ridl featured on accordian and viola and a photograph of a Douglas Ridl sculpture in the CD booklet. Thankfully, Jim avoids all maudlin cliché and simplistic country windowdressing to deliver real jazz that manages to evoke the unadorned majesty of the prairie with subtlety and grace. The strings are sparingly employed in a classic manner, adding harmonic depth without ever sounding syrupy.
Ridl's style is melodic and cleanly delineated, with occasional excursions into rhythmic vamps and metric quirks to keep things interesting. "Sun On My Hands", the lead-off track, is a lovely ballad with a some enigmatic melodic turns. Hall introduces the infectiously bouncy melody of "Sweet Clover," which is then picked up and developed with aplomb by Ridl. Walker's funky backbeat drives Ridl's percolating piano along on the groovy "Six Hours Later", which is followed by the desolately beautiful title track in a stately 6. "Discin'" evokes the tractor's ever decreasing circles as the farmer harrows a field. A propulsive 10-beat phrase powers "Thirty Foot Ceiling", inspiring Ridl's best solo work; he's really cookin' here. An arrangement of the Czech folk song "Green Meadow Waltz" provides the album with a poignant, but good-humored conclusion.
Door In A Field was clearly a labor of love for Ridl, and his collaborators seem to have understood his vision. Together, the musicians have made a gorgeous album of great emotional and musical power. Concept or no, it is a special achievement.
Track Listing: Sun on My Hands; Sweet Clover; Caragana; Six hours Later; Door in a Field; Tenetree; Discin'; Thirty Foot Ceiling; Green Meadow Waltz.
Personnel: Jim Ridl, piano; Darryl Hall, bass; Mark Walker, drums; Diane Monroe, violin; Kathy Ridl, viola, accordian; Jeffrey Solow, cello