Well-traveled Los Angeles-based bassist Darek Oles leads three configurations through ear balm renditions of his richly melodic, appealing compositions. His Cryptogramophone debut resembles in format the label's Music of Eric Von Essen
series, which explores that bassist's compositions with different ensembles. Here, he's caught in intimate conversation with old friend Brad Mehldau on five tracks, with a guitar/saxophone quartet on two, and with a trio on five, one of which features guest Bennie Maupin sounding happy on tenor.
His acknowledged compositional debt to Chopin makes his association with Mehldau obvious, as Mehldau's known to have Chopinesque reveries. As with Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez, their familiarity breeds empathy. Oles plays the theme to "November," with Mehldau brief in support. When Oles solos he surprises with his fluent lyrical sense. Mehldau seems content to sit back and let Oles take the melody all over the map. His time comes and Oles plays the generous, supportive host. Oles and Mehldau's time tweaking on "You Don't Know What Love Is," creates an irresistible forward momentum. With Mehldau running his variations, Oles restlessly plays off him. Finally freed, Oles dances all over the melody, plays the blues, his basslines snaking over and around the tune.
"Like a Dream" appropriately floats like early morning lake mist. Oles drops his hesitating tones behind Mehldau's elegant statements, wistful parlor jazz. A simple moving solo turn by Mehldau ends it. Mehldau easily strolls through the optimistic "Time Cafe," Oles' solo turn frisky by comparison. Any questions about their swing ability are cleared up on "Blues for Eden." Oles keeps time like a clock while Mehldau rolls right hand jabs shaking up the harmony with the left. Oles brought his big hands to this session, plucking at the speed of imagination. They go out trading measures, Oles powerfully effective.
The quartet debuts with "Precious Moments," a ballad that throbs with an aching warmth. Chuck Manning's blunted tenor attack melts with Larry Koonse's high definition guitar. Manning seduces the sax through his sensual solo. On "Before the Journey," Koonse plays accompaniment to Oles' dramatic statement of the courageous minored theme. Ferber creates an exotic feel with sparse percussion, and Oles takes a soulful, exquisite turn on bass. Koonse unhurriedly decorates the Latin-tinged melody.
A trio with Adam Benjamin on piano and Nate Wood on drums follows, Benjamin less liquid than Mehldau, but with no shortage of the musical charm needed to interpret this music. On "Gift," the piano revels in the sweet melody, while Oles strenuously climbs through the changes, never seeming to strain. The more ponderous "That Night" allows Oles a moving interlude.
Benjamin backs Oles' exposition on "Conclusion Part 1." He only gains enthusiasm on "Part 2," and when Woods' beat goes from light to funky, Bennie Maupin arrives to spread his tenor tenacity before a hasty fadeout cuts Maupin's display of tenor sax mastery.
At times sounding like early ECM, but with more coffee in the green room, Like a Dream could awaken a hit for Darek Oles and Cryptogramophone.
Personnel: Darek Oles, bass; Brad Mehldau, Adam Benjamin, piano; Mark Ferber, Nate Wood, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Chuck Manning, saxophones; Bennie Maupin, tenor saxophone.