If New York pianist John Stetch has his way about it, we'll never find ourselves in a McWorld. Stetch approaches each tune on Heavens of a Hundred Days
from a slightly different angle, yielding a record that is anything but uniform or prepackaged. The tunes on Heavens
include solo, duo, trio, and quartet arrangements of Stetch's original compositions plus a couple of standards. The liner notes assert a distinct philosophical concept underlying every tune, ranging from Isaiah to Rilke to Kandinsky (who's surprisingly underappreciated in jazz circles). Like a puzzle, the improvised performances can be placed in the right context in order to yield the listener a fuller understanding of the ideas churning behind each piece.
One doesn't need to study the text, however, to enjoy Heavens the music certainly can stand alone. The quartet performances range from the understated tension of the title track to the outgoing gusto of "Rondeau"; the improvised piano-saxophone duets tend toward a sparser, more interactive call-and-response feel. In the absence of McHenry's gently persuasive saxophone voice, the trio whispers, swings, or pounds away, depending on the context. Stetch is the unabashed leader, coaxing these changes out of the group. His stylistic range is broad, though he spends the most time in the Jarrett/Mehldau zone of quietly projected tension and release. He receives ample but unobtrusive support from bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard. Ballard's playing, in particular, provides for surprising rhythmic continuity between open spaces, gently swinging melodies, and onward rushing gallops. Variety is the only item on Stetch's menu on Heavens of a Hundred Days one has the feeling that, given another fifty tracks, there'd still never be two alike.
Personnel: John Stetch: piano; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Ben Street: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.