For her third outing as a leader, pianist/composer Kerry Politzer ups the ante by working with a couple of players who, while not exactly household names, have some cachet in the New York community. Chris Higgins, a lithe bassist with a tone not unlike Dave Holland's, may be as relatively unknown as Politzer, but saxophonist Andrew Rathburn has been establishing a reputation on a number of superb records for Spain's Fresh Sound New Talent labelboth as a writer of cerebral yet evocative compositions and an assured player whose strong technique never gets in the way of musical statements.
But the real surprise is the appearance of George Colligan, a pianist with over a dozen albums as a leader and over fifty albums with artists including Mingus Big Band, Buster Williams, and Richard Bona. A pianist on an album by another pianist, you might ask? As it turns out, Colligan is also a drummerand a surprisingly fine one at that. There are plenty of instances of drummers who turn out to be more than capable pianistsJack DeJohnette and Gary Husband, for example; but pianists who've also got serious drum skills aren't unusual, either. Both Chick Corea and Jan Hammer have been known to sit behind the drum kit, and so Colligan's appearance on Labyrinth isn't really all that odd.
Getting past the initial surprise of Colligan's unexpected role, it turns out that Politzer is a fine pianist who has been working the nexus of Brazilian music and mainstream jazz since her 2001 debut, Yearning. The inevitable comparisons to Eliane Elias are not without justification. Like Elias, Politzer's reach is broadher focus may be jazz, but her background in classical music informs some of her writing, although never overtly. And, like Elias, she's also a singer; but unlike Elias, who continues to release albums where her voice is an equal partner to her piano, Politzer hasn't sung on record since Yearning, with both 2002's Watercolor and Labyrinth focusing instead on her not insignificant instrumental acumen.
But there are differences as well. From the first notes of the up-tempo opening samba, "Rhodes Rage, Politzer demonstrates a stronger attack, although her lines are never less than elegant, her approach consistently lyrical. And while her interest in Brazilian music pervades the disc, it's enshrouded by a broader jazz context where a bossa like "Paloma, despite its irregular meter and more complex harmonies, still feels authentic and true. The simple statement of "After the Smoke, Memories aches darkly and the labyrinthine nature of the appropriately named title track demonstrate Politzer's ability to translate emotion into sound.
Like guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Adam Rogers, Politzer has the ability to create often simple-sounding and accessible structures that reveal countless layers on deeper examination. Labyrinth is another appealing entry from an artist who deserves to be on everyone's radar.
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Personnel: Kerry Politzer: piano, compositions; Andrew Rathburn: tenor and soprano saxophone;
Chris Higgins: bass; George Colligan: drums.