Jim Ridl: Your Cheatin' Heart
Your Cheatin' Heart
Dreambox Media DMJ-1080
In addition to being a highly skilled and accomplished jazz pianist, Jim Ridl is a creative and resourceful musician, composer, and arranger who draws on a rich legacy of musical and personal resources to develop a wide range of musical ideas and concepts unified by his deep grasp of the blues and its endless potential to be reborn in new forms. Each of his recordings has a particular theme, mood, and content in which the separate tracks flow into one another in a way which offers a sense of movements of a single composition rather than a disjointed compilation of "tunes.
On Your Cheatin' Heart, the inspiration is country music. The centerpieces are the Hank Williams classic, "Your Cheatin' Heart and the ever popular "Tennessee Waltz, with its (ironically for a waltz) sad lyrics about a rejected lover. In a lark of inspiration, Ridl plays short motifs on a kid's toy piano that he picked up at an antique shop. The sound of this little instrument seems to suggest the universal childlike innocence and vulnerability in all of us.
Against this melancholy backdrop, the breaking in of both strong melodic lines and hard bop and mainstream jazz comes as great relief and creates an aura of "resurrection and joy. The sense of the album then becomes more that of highly listenable sounds that would make for good music for a Sunday jazz brunch.
But these pleasantries are deceptive in that the album is rich with musical ideas that require deep, reflective listening to appreciate. For example, on "Your Cheatin' Heart, with the basic blues progression that is Ridl's métier, he moves deftly from the theme and the moral connotations of its lyrics into lively variations in a mainstream jazz mode. The rhythm section clicks in with precision. There's a bit of the Herbie Hancock feel in some of the riffs.
Regarding "Grazed by Light: Solo Prelude, the second half of the title connects it to the next track and also suggests the way in which the whole album is a composition, with each track a "movement. Ridl, a master at exploring a mood and a sensibility, does some meditative, contemplative piano work a la Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert. With the followup "Grazed by Light: Group, the rhythm picks up. Ron Kerber takes up the theme on soprano sax in a relaxed way. Then J.D. Walter comes in, letting us know immediately that his voice is a collaborative instrument. He also does a few bars of interesting unison with Kerber. And we notice how well Ridl uses comping to generate ideas and stimulation for the others. (It's rare to want to listen carefully to piano comping, but I recommend it with this album.) Walter solos sotto voce, gradually increasing the loudness and intensity. The intensity slowly builds, and the rhythmic changes become more complex.
In "Tennessee Waltz," featuring Jeff Lee Johnson on mandolin, the melody is stated, interestingly and unusually, by the bass fiddle, which generates a melancholy sonority in keeping with the sad ending of the lyrics. Then bass, mandolin, sax, and voice come together in a kind of chorale. Following the chorus, we hear Ridl now on "Happyland baby piano with single notes that echo in the mind like bells tolling for the lonely man whose lover danced away with another.
One wonders how a jazz standard like "Caravan could come into play in such a context. It commences with eerie overtones by Walter with Kerber's sax, and then the rhythm picks up into the classically exotic bebop version suggesting "Arabian Nights. Walter is very much at home in the bop mode. There's a terrific mandolin solo: in Jef Lee Johnson's hands, this traditional folk instrument is turned to good use for jazz.
Ridl comes in with halting rhythms and Bartok-like counterpoint. He employs some hypermodern non-syncopated soloing here. Then, he relaxes back into the sharply contrasting Hancock mode. Ridl's inventiveness becomes more and more apparent, as the ensemble returns to the theme. This cut is about sound and rhythm more than about melody. It contrasts sharply in pace and style with "Tennessee Waltz. It is perhaps suggestive of the possible exile and ultimate redemption of the lonely dancer.
And so on, the point being that there are subtleties of musical ideas and meanings here that link diverse kinds of music into an interwoven tapestry.
Thus, this CD, which is no less than a small jazz masterpiece, can be enjoyed for background listening and also has depth and detail that will interest the serious aficionado and/or musician.
Personnel: Ron Kerber: soprano saxophone; J.D. Walter: vocals; Steve Varner: bass; Jim Miller: drums; Jef Lee Johnson: guitar and mandolin; Jim Ridl: Yamaha grand piano and Happyland baby piano.
Tracks: Your Cheatin' Heart; Grazed by Light: Solo Prelude; Grazed by Light: Group; Tennessee Waltz; Caravan; Antiphon (Tri Vulti Pacis); "Smile, Said the Drum (for Elvin). Recorded January 11, 2005 at Morning Star Studios, Spring Hill, PA.