There was a time when most artists pursued linear careers. While the Miles Davis of Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) was very different than that of Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), a straight line could be drawn through his career, with each successive album usually representing an incremental step. These days artists often run multiple and vastly different projects concurrently, to some extent because of broadening interests resulting from the ever-expanding and cross-pollinating nature of improvised music.
Pianist David Kikoski's Limits (Criss Cross, 2006) was an accessible, all-acoustic and modernistic mainstream affair. The equally contemporary Lighter Way is even more approachable. It finds its way into a broader sonic space through Kikoski's addition of synthesizers, and it explores greater stylistic territory that blends hints of Americana, romantic classicism, mid-'70s ECM and more.
Lighter Way features bassist Ed Howard and drummer Victor Lewis, who work regularly with Kikoski in support of artists like Eddie Henderson and Dave Stryker. This is the first time they've recorded as a standalone trio, and the reason they're in demand as a unit is in even greater evidence here. While often considered for its ability to swing hard in a variety of settings, here the trio is no less groove-centric, but in some ways distanced from the straight-ahead tradition.
The fusion energy of "Stigmata" may come as a surprise, but anyone who's heard Howard with vibraphonist Joe Locke's Four Walls of Freedom band and Lewis' work with the late Jaco Pastorius in the mid-1980s knows both are no strangers to kicking it hard. Kikoski's synth tone is reminiscent of Genesis' Tony Banks, but that's as far as the comparison goes. Kikoski is obviously a far greater improviser, and both Howard and Lewis are with him every step of the way.
The darker "Wanting and Waiting" sounds like an outtake from a 1970s ECM session by John Abercrombie's quartet with pianist Richie Beirach. It's one of four tracks that feature Kikoski solely on piano, and here Lewis' touch is light while Howard's warm pizzicato provides the lyrical theme. The Midwestern vibe of the equally acoustic but more optimistic "Joyous" belies Kikoski's Jersey roots, while the title track's gentle synth washes and soulful groove border onbut never extend intosmooth jazz territory.
The romanticism of "Florence's Reverie" suggests a less Jarrett-esque Lyle Mays. But Kikoski's closer, the solo "Variation 1," is most portentous. Kikoski, most often thought of as a group player, may well have a solo record in him. In the meantime, Lighter Way demonstrates a broader side to Kikoski that bodes equally well for the future.
Personnel: David Kikoski: piano, synth; Ed Howard: bass; Victor Lewis: drums.