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Leslie Pintchik: Quartets

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Leslie Pintchik
Quartets
Ambient Records
2007

Both quartets on Quartets include pianist Leslie Pintchik, bassist Scott Hardy and drummer Mark Dodge. One quartet extends its percussion section with Satoshi Takeishi, who played drums and percussion on Pintchik's first release, So Glad to Be Here (Ambient Records, 2004). The other quartet features Scott Wilson on alto or soprano saxophone.

A strength of this disc is its three standards, inventively arranged by Pintchik and Hardy. "Happy Days Are Here Again" moves at a stately pace, starting with an aura of hushed wonder, enhanced by Takeishi's rattling and tinkling and Dodge's cymbals. The mood gradually builds to a contained exuberance. "Too Close For Comfort" drives along in a percussive Brazilian groove in which all players bear down hard on the "too close" figure. (Ken Dryden's liner notes point out that they actually use two different dance rhythms.) Pintchik enriches with bluesy chords and figures, and Hardy plays an agile, swinging solo.

Among Pintchik's compositions, the upbeat "A Simpler Time" has an organic form and triplet phrasing over a duple meter. "Over Easy" has an active melody that, like other Pintchik compositions, repeats a phrase in different keys with rhythmic displacements. Wilson plays the lead on soprano and takes two interesting solos. "Small Pleasures" is a catchy tune, served well by the dark and rich tone of Wilson's soprano. Pintchik's solo hints at the style of Herbie Hancock in her use of arpeggios, blues-riff ornamentation, and alternation of single notes and octaves on a melodic line.

"Private Moments" has a long, songlike melody mixing duple and triple rhythms. Throughout, Pintchik's playing moves through tonal centers, suggesting light following shadow. Wilson takes the lead on soprano and plays an emotive solo. As an inspiration for the composition, Pintchik cites Pierre Bonnard's paintings of his wife bathing. I can feel a connection between her musical style and the painter's use of spare outlines with underlying meticulous brushwork that conveys complex light and color.

An intriguing departure from Pintchik's other compositions here, "Not So Fast" is a minor blues in a finger-snapping shuffle groove, with an angular melody reminiscent of "Something's Coming" and "Cool" from West Side Story (an association reinforced by the disc's closing "Somewhere/Berimbau"). A more weighty character emerges through Pintchik's boppish solo and then Wilson's solo full of blazing runs. As background to Dodge's deft solo, the other musicians play a modal-jazz rework of the tune based on its opening motif.

Hardy's composition "Fugu" is a samba poised between major and minor. As Pintchik plays the melody quietly, Hardy interpolates a falling half-step for a moving call-response effect. Hardy uses the singing character of his instrument to complement and extend the inherently percussive sound of the piano.

The closing standard, "Somewhere," is a standout. The song is effectively framed by a contrasting introduction and ending. The musicians ply varied tempos and grooves to convey the song's ambiguous message (should we believe and rejoice, or sigh at the futility?). For the introduction, Pintchik plays a descending-fifth motif over a four-measure chord vamp, which Dodge and Takeishi embellish and Hardy enhances with melodic swells. Pintchik improvises as the tempo increases and then falls back. The pitch drops a half step and then another, and they begin the theme. The simultaneous rise in intensity and fall in key is briefly disorienting.

Pintchik's treatment of the melody reflects the yearning quality of the Bernstein-Sondheim song in its original setting. At the same time, Hardy's walking bass with pedal points, as well as Dodge and Takeishi's percussion that includes cymbals, bells, and occasional snare rolls, add a tension and forward momentum that's almost marchlike. When the opening vamp returns, Pintchik solos with a bluesy touch. The tempo speeds up and then drops back for the return of the head. In the original arrangement, the "somewhere" cadence in parallel major triads has a modal flavor. Pintchik pares that down to parallel fourths, which suggests tenuous hope. But on the final "somewhere," she shifts its accent to create the instrument-mimicking introductory figure of Baden-Powell's "Berimbau," ending the piece in a joyful Brazilian groove.

The vamp used for the introduction and transition deserves further note. "Somewhere" has a standard 32-bar song form, but phrase-wise the second A part spills two measures into the bridge, and the bridge's lyrics end two measures early. The four measures of the vamp use the changes of the middle four measures of the bridge, pointing up the contrast in the song's sections. In addition, use of the descending-fifth figure from the bridge emphasizes it as a central motif that's related to the descending-triad of the A part.

Curious about the uniqueness of the strong points of this version, I listened to some other piano-centered recordings of "Somewhere" (release details are given under Tracks and Personnel below)...



Pianist David Hazeltine's trio version (2005) is up-tempo and extroverted, opening with a short drum intro that could be "Night In Tunisia." He deconstructs the song's rhythm, varying meters and shifting accents so that the A part's descending triad punches the first three beats of the measure.

In pianist Bill Charlap's version (2004), quite different from Pintchik's, he plays a single chorus of "Somewhere" completely solo, without improvisation. His playing is expressive, while he stays close to the phrasing, countermelodies, and voicings of the musical's vocals and orchestration. His repeated final "somewhere" cadence fades away, as it does in the musical's finale.

On a disc by the Jeff Hamilton Trio (1997), pianist Tamir Hendelman spends the first quarter of the piece on a melodic vamp that resembles pianist Bill Evans's long introduction to Bernstein's "Some Other Time." Even without a key change, the start of the song gives a mild shock, as in Pintchik's version. On the head, Hendelman plays transitional bass notes similar to those on the Quartets version, where Hardy plays them on bass.

Recorded not long after the musical's debut, Oscar Peterson's "Somewhere" (1962) is a study in contrasting sections—a kind of double take. After a bowed-bass solo, Peterson spins out the song as a ballad in his energetic, full-handed style with a blues strain. Half-way through, the meter suddenly changes from a rubato 4/4 to a steady 3/4, and Peterson's playing becomes markedly subdued and slightly behind the beat. The sharp delineation between the first half, which might be an introduction, and the second is emphasized by an upward key change from C to the song's original Eb.

Marian McPartland's version (1960) moves at a medium clip that carries a pensive mood. Her right-hand harmonization in thirds carries a wistful innocence; compare Pintchik's use of the fourth, a more astringent interval. On the closing "somewhere," McPartland's parallel triads are unexpectedly clipped and seem to ring in the air for a moment.

That same year, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded a gently swinging, Baroque-influenced version. Brubeck on piano and Paul Desmond on saxophone realize the canonical treatment that's hinted at in the musical's original orchestration. They improvise using the descending-triad motive from the A part, for a constantly changing impression of major and minor, light and dark. Although this version has a much more abstract style, its upbeat mood and immersion in the song's musical features are akin to the Quartets version's approach.

This survey reveals some similarities among the various versions of "Somewhere," such as emphasis on melodic motives and use of a contrasting introduction. On a more specific level, the Quartets version seems unique in basing its introduction on the song's bridge. Also, the atmospheric use of percussion stands out as original, as does the celebratory "Berimbau" ending.


Tracks: Happy Days Are Here Again; Too Close For Comfort; A Simpler Time; Not So Fast; Over Easy; Private Moment; Fugu; Small Pleasures; Somewhere/Berimbau.

Personnel: Leslie Pintchik: piano; Scott Hardy: bass; Mark Dodge: drums; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion (1-3,7,9); Steve Wilson: soprano and alto saxophones (4-6,8).


Other Recordings Cited:

David Hazeltine Modern Standards (Sharp Nine, 2005)

Bill Charlap Trio Somewhere: The Songs Of Leonard Bernstein (Blue Note, 2004)

Jeff Hamilton Trio Hands On (MONS, 1997)

Oscar Peterson Trio West Side Story (Verve, 1962)

Marian McPartland Plays Leonard Bernstein (Time, 1960)

Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Music From Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (Columbia, 1960)

Record Label: Ambient Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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