For his Zoho debut, New York pianist Bob Albanese shows a nice array of colors and sides with some excellent original compositions and a few great standards. His love of classic jazz is evident throughout, but so too is a desire to push some limits. Throughout the album, he shows a touch for angular Latin rhythms and edgy feels, combining them with the effortless swing that fueled Red Garland, Horace Silver and Bud Powell.
Many of the trio's songs start off as lyrical melodies, fluctuate through changing feels, and return to the head with a slightly wild edge. Albanese's "Joyful Noise" starts off subdued, but steps out with an energy that grows through solo sections. When the group sends it back home, it's been changed by a storm of percussion into something bolder and brasher, which thrills along before settling down again.
"Waiting for Louis" starts off as a simple, hard-swinging tune, but also undergoes a transformationthanks to Albanese and drummer Willard Dyson, who switches mid-way from brushes to sticks. The piano keeps carrying the melody, but the drums throw a little electricity into the air.
Guest Ira Sullivan's big tenor shows up for a few numbers. His sound is sweet but restrained, like tea and honey, and he brings a pleasant breeze of cool to the session. "Yesterday's Gardenias" features sax that skates as it swings, fitting neatly into the leader's lush block chords and flourishes.
Sullivan also breaks out his alto flute for a great version of Thelonious Monk's ever-haunting "Ugly Beauty," with Albanese sending out dark, tinkling notes throughout, and closing with strokes of cymbals and piano strings. Piano and soprano sax also wind their way over the lovely "Midnight Sun," a lounging ballad duet.
The album's two title cuts feature the piano twisting and dipping between hits from bass and drums. Bassist Tom Kennedy snaps out a dizzying solo from his strings, and there are touches of funky grooves mixed in on the way out. "Morning Nocturne" is a warm bossa that hums along with Sullivan on Latin percussion. And two takes of the up-tempo "Friendly Fire" cook; though the second incomplete cut burns a little hotter.
In the end, this is an intriguing blend of progressive piano jazz and classic sounds. Sullivan's presence tends to bring the sound a little closer to tradition, while Albanese's trio ranges a little farther out on its own. Both contexts fit, and there are few wrong steps. They clearly have the flexibility to balance their explorations with accessibility.
Personnel: Bob Albanese: piano; Tom Kennedy: bass; Willard Dyson: drums; Ira Sullivan: tenor sax (2, 9, 10), soprano sax (8), alto flute (6), percussion (4).