David Kikoski Quartet: Limits (2006)
Limits may seem like an odd title for this disc, an unassuming but thoroughly captivating quartet session that reunites pianist David Kikoski with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart from his 2004 Criss Cross release, Details; it also brings back tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake from earlier Criss Cross discs, including 2002's Combinations. But while this set of all-original material situates itself firmly in the mainstream, it also exudes a sense of adventure that makes it anything but restrictive.
What Limits really refers to is Kikoski's decision to reign back his ubiquity as a sideman and concentrate more heavily on his own projects. On the strength of this set, that was clearly a wise decision. This music pushes the envelope of the modern mainstream, ranging from the up-tempo post bop of "Ping Ponging," featuring a fiery solo from Blake, to the more expansive "Duane Reade," which suggests what ECM might sound like were it based in America rather than Europe. There are extreme moments which approach, but never quite reach, pure abandon, and a sense of structural control that nevertheless encourages open communication and experimentation.
Like many musicians these days, Kikoski embraces an aesthetic that refuses to draw a distinct line between the American tradition and those of other countries. Still, he doesn't deny his rootsfor example, the funky title track draws a clear line from early Blue Note-era Herbie Hancock to the present. Grenadier and Stewart lay down a visceral groove which stands in direct contrast to their more textural support on the darkly balladic "Not the Only Hurting One." "Healing Time" swings hard, but Grenadier's feel is so elastic and Stewart's time is so relaxed yet precise that even at its most urgent, the piece has an appealing sense of informality.
Kikoskiwho's as comfortable reinterpreting the music of Wes Montgomery with Pat Martino as he is plying a more contemporary approach with Joe Lockeis at the top of his form. His two "Kaye and Moose" duets with Blake are abstract and unencumbered, but still feel focused, the result of a shared history that goes back nearly a decade. He's a spare accompanist, leaving Blake plenty of room to move on the fiery "Growth," relying on a light touch that creates drama through understatement rather than overt power.
Kikoski's writing is deceptive: his melodies are economical and his harmonies are spare. But like the music of many of his contemporaries, there are deeper challenges beneath the surface. It's that depth, along with a conversational, engaging interaction which never becomes confrontational, that makes Limits one of Kikoski's best efforts to date.
Track Listing: Growth; Kaye and Moose Part I; Duane Reade; As It Happens; Ping Ponging; Limits; Not the Only Hurting One; Healing Time; Kay and Moose Part II.
Personnel: David Kikoski: piano; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.