Resemblances can sometimes cloak reality. It took me a while to get over the fact that Francesca Tanksley looks like my childhood piano teacher. (That sort of musical Freudianism can be hard, you have to understand.) It also took me a while to get over the way her music downright drips with the raw essence of McCoy Tyner. While there may not be much of a formal connection, Tyner lives in her block chords, her steaming delivery, and the way she interlocks melody and harmony.
Once I got over those two things, I began to hear Journey as it really is. Francesca Tanksley is a very serious pianist, as she makes clear from the very beginning on "Into The Light." While the piece might have a soaring theme and engage an elvish dexterity, there's no mistaking the fact that her trio does not take its music lightly. For what it's worth, that's a good thing. It takes the adventurous modern bop sound of Journey toward a higher energy state and emphasizes its connections with the '60s jazz continuum.
Tanksley takes a distinctively two-fisted approach to the piano. Either she plays a treble melody over dense, surging chordal accompaniment or she integrates that melody into the chords to form one single voice. She rarely breaks that rule on this record, except when the tempo drops on ballads. Stuttering trills, fluttering ripples, and titillating dips help keep linearity at bay. With all this flickering pulse and drama, the only real fair criticism lies in her timing, which is in some ways a personal thing. Tanksley doesn't swing much in any obvious sense, and when she does it tends to be heaped atop a pile of notes.
There's no sense in ignoring the contributions of bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, who make their voices amply heard on Journey. The fact that Tanksley totally respects her sideman's ability to carry the low end (manifested by her notable absence in the bass register of her own instrument) does say something. And Baker's talent at performing his mission undetected deserves note. But in the end this recording is all about Francesca Tanksleyand she's an earful already.
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Personnel: Francesca Tanksley: piano; Clarence Seay: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.