How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
An inspired statement from pianist Ben Waltzer, also featuring tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, with appearances by Mohammed Naseehu Ali on djembe and talking drum. This lineup is actually three-quarters of Lightcap’s Lay-Up ensemble, so what you’re hearing is by no means a thrown-together studio band. Quite a few of the tracks simply feature Waltzer in a standard trio setting. The pianist’s style is harmonically adventurous in the post-Hancock mold, ranging from post-bop swing to funk to haunting, dissonant balladry. On "La Ville Tentaculaire" and "Arbella" he employs a distinctly Ellingtonian touch.
Waltzer knows how to pace an album. He inserts three solo piano "ruminations" to break up the longer pieces; following the first two, Ali and Cleaver take over with percussion interludes titled "Kira de Anshi" (I) and (II). These brief bits function like palette cleansers during a fine meal. The album ends with the third and final rumination, titled "Dasein Blues," a reference to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Waltzer’s predilection for philosophy also comes through in the title of his second track, "Crooked Timber," as in "the crooked timber of humanity," a phrase coined by Immanuel Kant and later used as a book title by Sir Isaiah Berlin. (Philosophy aside, McHenry leaps out with a burning solo on this track.)
As if to balance out the prevailing air of erudition and seriousness (enhanced by a dense ballad arrangement of Shostakovich’s "Prelude #4"), Waltzer and crew add a phantom 17th track, consisting simply of a crashing chord, followed by collective laughter. After an intense musical journey, Waltzer chooses to sign off with a candid studio moment, and somehow this seems entirely appropriate.
Track Listing: 1. El Abandono 2. Crooked Timber 3. La Ville Tentaculaire 4. Par(Nas)se 5. Rumination, prenzlauerberg 6. Kira da Anshi (I) 7. Arbella 8. Bass Line 9. The Blonde Bedouin 10. Rumination, orianenburg str. 11. Kira da Anshi (II) 12. Sooky-Sooky Now 13. Prelude #4 14. Layla
Personnel: Ben Waltzer, piano; Mohammed Naseehu Ali, talking drum, djembe; Gerald Cleaver, drums; Chris Lightcap, bass; Bill McHenry, tenor saxophone