Cadwallader, Asetta & Dixson: Quicker Than The Eye (2005)
Quicker Than The Eye is not your standard piano trio fare. Pianist Rex Cadwallader, bassist Mike Asetta, and drummer Ati Dixson are pushing the excepted norms of how different camps of jazz are defined through original and inspired playing. Whether or not you are willing to listen depends on how staunch you are concerning the brand of jazz you affiliate yourself with.
Boasting a style that straddles the common precepts of what the smooth and straight-ahead jazz idioms are supposed to sound like, Quicker Than The Eye melds these sounds together in every performance to varying degrees. Where no one song pledges allegiance to either camp, they are also seemingly rooted in both. As a pianist, Cadwallader frequently lays down an infectious groove with strong solos often incorporating an electronic keyboard sound some listeners may find more in tune with smooth jazz. Combined with the group sound, the trio falls somewhere between the lines of more commercial Chick Corea (an admitted influence) and the more dynamic players of pop-oriented jazz like recent Crusaders or Yellowjackets with an ideology akin to someone like Mark Elf, who has tread the popular and the critical to a good degree of success.
Cadwallader writes in the liner notes of the album that as a child he was captivated by magic and the idea that "the unseen was just as real as the seen. As an adult he believes he has retained much of this excitement and hopes to translate some of it into music. And he is working this reference a lot, in every sense. Songs like "White Doves and Purple Silk sound at first glance something you would find on the smooth jazz hit chart. Even so, the music doesn't quite fit as it refuses to be passive, all three musicians working together to be heard seriously.
Wanting to emulate the word play of Nat Adderley's "Fun and "Games, Cadwallader pens two of the strongest tracks in "Now You See It... and "...Now You Don't. Both favor, as most do, an upbeat memorable melody that allows for interesting solos. But neither strays far off the path either, never really moving beyond the safe parameters they have defined from the onset. Cadwallader is an impressive pianist, no matter what you think of the sound employed on the album. He creates a wonderful swagger and drive throughout as he works each of his compositions with verve.
Ultimately, for listeners who are open to a more pop-oriented sound with some of the fire of straight jazz piano, there is a lot to discover here. Cadwallader, Asetta, and Dixson are plowing a hard road here when it comes to bridging these often dogmatic and fervently opposed camps. But they do so with vigor and confidence and a high degree of success. If listeners from both spheres give Quicker Than The Eye a chance, many will find a lot to enjoy. Conversely, others are likely to dismiss it for the very same reasons.
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Track Listing: Quicker Than The Eye; Now You See It; My Lovely Assistant; Prestidigitation; Can You Keep A Secret?; Houdini; Nothing Up My Sleeve; Dirty Tricks; White Doves and Purple Silk; ...Now You Don't; My Lovely Assistant - Short Version.
Personnel: Rex Cadwallader: piano and keyboards; Mike Asetta: acoustic and electric bass; Arti Dixson: drums.