Jack Reilly Trio: Live at Dean Clough
After composing, performing and recording a work motivated by and patterned after a struggle with a life- threatening illness (Innocence: Green Spring Suite, Unichrom, 2007), Jack Reilly might be expected to lighten up on his sequel. Recorded in March 2007, even the cover of Live at Dean Clough, depicting the pianist in an English pub apparently enjoying a leisurely game of pool with his bassist and drummer, might suggest a more playful approach this time out. But Reilly's is a ceaselessly creative, relentlessly restless spirit that knows all too well the value of time to dally with it. The sequel is every bit as visionary and purposeful (not to mention "big") as is the predecessor.
As observed in the review of Innocence, Reilly's reputation as a keen student of legendary pianist-theorist Lennie Tristano and as a foremost expert on the music of pianist Bill Evans (The Harmony Of Bill Evans, publ. Hal Leonard) should not be allowed to obfuscate affinities that can invoke the spirits of Liszt and Rachmaninoff as readily as those of baroque and twentieth-century composers, not to mention "public domain" genres such as the spirituals and blues.
"Clara's Bell" opens with undulating middle-register chords suggestive of Debussy's La Mer, intensifying into a sublime, yearning fantasia for solo piano, before Dave Green's bass enters, serving less as an anchor than a firm keel to assure the vessel's passage to the other side. Reilly's piano again ventures forth unaccompanied while introducing "Blues for All," which would catch the listener completely by surprise were it not for the title.
What begins as a quiet, deliberative etude, reminiscent of Shostakovich or Poulenc, takes an abrupt 180-degree turn in the direction of Kansas City, as the two-handed pianist lays down some burly boogie-woogie thunder before receiving assistance, once again, from Green's buoyant walking 4/4, then having the presence of mind to stay out of the way for the bass solo (and Green is a bassist who plays time whether in a supporting or solo role).
Bill Evans, over the course of his career, acquired slight notoriety as a pianist with an aversion to playing the bluesquite ironic considering his vital contributions to trumpeter Miles Davis' seminal Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and saxophonist Oliver Nelson's masterwork, The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961). Whatever the case with Evans (one version has it that the influential pianist's resistance was less to the blues than to the bad manners of certain musicians who insisted on telling him what to play), Reilly clearly embraces the 12-bar form, using its simplicity as a motivic device for building complex constructions, while alternating between thick and light textures. In fact, especially in the formal venue of Dean Clough, his playing frequently recalls that of John Lewis, while the sound of the trio, rounded out by the tasteful brushwork of drummer Stephen Keogh, brings to mind three-quarters of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
But a work such as Reilly's 22-minute Easter Suite, comprising three movements "Suffering," "Death," and "Resurrection"aligns him less with John Lewis than with Mozart and Verdior Duke Ellington. In fact, just as Ellington paid tribute, in his Second Concert of Sacred Music (Prestige, 1968), to the late John Gensel, jazz pastor to New York City's jazz community, Reilly has also elected to dedicate Easter Suite to this inspirational and singularly spiritual shepherd, whose absence has, above all, served as reminder of the significance of his presence to his flock.
In typically paradoxical Reilly fashion, "Suffering"following a brief Hymn in which unaccompanied piano introduces a rising motifgenerates positive feelings through primarily major modalities. Reilly is the antithesis to so much contemporary jazz with its emphasis on minor modalities and the Dorian mode. The overall tonic in his composing and improvising is the major modality: tension, or harmonic interest, is created by "tonicization," a process taking the listener through a sequence of closely related but rarely predictable major keys.
The introductory movement opens in the key of G major, but then the listener's journey touches on the keys of C, B, D, E, Db and even Ab major before finding more emphatic momentary repose in Eb major and F major just prior to reaching fulfilling closure in G major. Rather than the constant awareness of an entrenched tonal center saved from monotony only by the player's degree of fervor, the listener senses forward progress and experiences not merely the promise of a reward but its consummation.
Soon to follow is a descending figure, which the pianist returns to with increasingly rhapsodic, rhythmically aggressive variations. A sprightly Latin rhythm yields to some of the hardest swinging on the session, with Green offering an unshakable foundation while Reilly demonstrates its advantages through his right hand's building of infectious melodies and riffs, as Keogh meanwhile shows that driving jazz need make no concessions on account of brushes. The three end as one in a giddy, spiraling downward descentlanding squarely on an exuberant D major chord.
The second movement, "Death," begins with tonally ambiguous, appropriately "mysterious" chords, but returns to the rising motif of the opening hymn, this time alternating suspensions and resolutions around the key of Bb major. A naked, gripping passage played by left hand alone soon introduces a second voice by virtue of the other hand, then Green's voice is added to the increasingly dense fugal textures, and finally Keough's brisk brushwork on snares and nimble footwork on bass drum join the triple-pronged counteroffensive, denying death's sting while replacing it with a life-affirming ring.
Soon we're in the full-blown "Resurrection," the closest the group has come to groovin' on a "hit-type" popular song. As in the preceding movement, Reilly makes no effort to conceal his glee at playing the responsive Fazioli grand piano, yet he sets up the solos by the other two principals in such a way as to make each an organic extension of the primary business unfolding in the main theme. There never is the sense in a Reilly trio of a conventional interlude, or temporary recess, during which the bassist and drummer have a turn at strutting their stuff. Their solo contributions flow as "naturally" from the musical idea as the pianist's.
This is a continually delightful, engaging and rewarding two-disc program (considerations of space prevent detailed analysis of all the highlights, one of which, The Blue Sage Theme, can be heard in part on the video clip below). What's especially noteworthy about the playing throughout Live at Dean Clough is both the energy and the continual emphasis on forward, purposeful movement. There's rarely a sense of repetition; anticlimax simply has no place in a Jack Reilly scenario or performance. He's one of the few musicians about whom it can safely be said that more is more.
Tracks: Easter Suite; Lament For A Clown; Clara's Bell; Blues For All; Blue Sage Theme Plus Variation 1 & 2; Variation 3; Variation 4 & 5 Repeat Theme; Encore 1; Encore 2.
Personnel: Jack Reilly: piano; Dave Green: bass; Stephen Keogh: drums.