Geoffrey Keezer / Peter Sprague Band: Mill Creek Road
Geoffrey Keezer / Peter Sprague Band
Mill Creek Road
Pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Peter Sprague have combined their considerable musical forces in forming this band, the first fruits of which are available now as Mill Creek Road on Sprague's own SBE Records. They are joined in this effort by the up and coming Los Angeles double bass virtuoso Hamilton Price and the ubiquitous Duncan Moore on drums for this (mostly) quartet outing. Percussionist Zach Harmon, and soulful violinist Erica Ochoa make several cameo appearances which greatly enhance the cuts they guest on.
The Keezer / Sprague Band draws on several stylistic models in a referential fashion. There's definitely a keyboardist Chick Corea strain to the opening piece, "Thessaloniki," named for a Greek city that Sprague visited recently while touring in vocalist Dianne Reeves' band. "Thessaloniki" opens up with a long, intricate melody that's tossed from Keezer to Sprague before they play it in tandem. Throughout this disc, there's a simpatico energy in the way Keezer's piano and Sprague's guitar meld their melodic and harmonic voices together. There's also a hint of guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays' blend on this release, but as with the Corea reference, it's all done through a jazzier, more be-bop aesthetic. Keezer takes the first solo, and his ideas, which are very involved, rush by with a startling alacrity. Sprague's spot offers up knotty, fiendish be-bop inspired lines that fast-forward the listener into the 21st century.
Next up is Keezer's intriguing jazz waltz, "En Babia," which is based (loosely) on the Eagles' mega-hit, "Hotel California." Sprague and Keezer have written much of this material in a mind-set to feature Price's unique abilities as a bassist. On this and other tunes there are long passages featuring complex bass ostinatos performed in unison with Keezer's left hand. Keezer is a master of intricate rhythms and "En Babia" is loaded with unison stabs and strikes that make his ideas of pulsation collective. The melody to "En Babia" is bluesy and kind of mocking, in a good-natured way. After cycling through the melody and the metric unisons, Sprague takes over with a solo that exploits the "blues-connation" of the theme, utilizing short bits of repetition, before widening out to longer and longer melodic orbits. "En Babia" is a very catchy piece of work.
Sprague's "India Zach" follows, and it's a different type of rhythmic triumph. While the guitar lays down an off-center vamp, Keezer jumps on the melody, which is joyous and inventive with a kind of stop-and-start feel to it. Keezer's playing cascades like water careening down a staircase, then suddenly the band zeroes in on unison, stabbing and smacking straight into a pedal tone, which launches Sprague's sitarist Ravi Shankar meets guitarist Robert Johnson solo. The pedal tones modulate, reflecting changes of mood, then shift gears again back to that ebullient melody with Sprague at the helm this time. There's a kind of coda that leads to lower tones which set up Zach Harmon's dramatic, percolating tabla solo. The band whips through the theme one last time, ending with a bang.
Things wind down considerably for the Sprague-penned title track. This pastoral vignette has a heart-felt, introspective aura to it. Keezer and Sprague take turns telling the story, massaging the notes without getting smarmy about it. After some nice piano and guitar dialogue, Price takes over with a gorgeous, muted and perfectly paced legato rumination on the form. Sprague's nylon stringed solo is a deft mix of probing single-note ideas and snatches of chord melody work.
Keezer wrote "Durga's Hammer" for his wife, Susan Wulff (who plays double-bass in the San Diego Symphony). Again, there's echoes of Metheny and Mays in the interplay of Sprague and Keezer. There's a gradually building insistence to the melody, easing into Sprague's nylon-string guitar solo which uses phrases that repeat themselves, broken up by long, intricate lines. There are several melodic scene changes before it opens up into another Price solo, noteworthy for both sound and content.
The disc continues with another Keezer original, "Etendue," originally a ballet term, which makes sense, because there's a definite choreography in the back and forth between guitar and piano, and a long, cinematic theme which incorporates Harmon's tasty tabla groove. Out of nowhere, Ochoa's yearning violin wafts in. It's a nice touch. Despite the exotica of the tablas, there is a vaguely Americana vibe to "Etendue," which winds down with Harmon's percussion gradually gaining prominence in the mix.
The disc jumps back into unbridled intensity with Sprague's "Moot Point," which balances a very be-bop type "head" with sections in 5/4 and, briefly, 6/4. There are again exciting passages of unison ostinatos between the left hand of Keezer and Price's double bass. Keezer sets up for the first solo, on fire from the get go over the pages in five which only seems to make his racing lines over the swing time sections even more astonishing. Sprague takes over, and even at this tempo, he manages to exploit the tonal nuances of his steel string guitar while simultaneously lashing out fully developed ideas in real time. The winding, boppish theme then dials down to expose an opportunity for Moore to open things up with a burning drum solo that never loses the inherent logic of the piece. "Moot Point" proves that you can work with tricky time signatures and twisting melodic contours and still swing your ass off!
The final piece, "Nightfall On The Serengeti," explores different territory from anything else on this disc. Written by Keezer, this one has a distinct ECM-type story to tell. It has a muted, arpeggio driven landscape that is underscored by the tasteful, martial snare drum work of Moore. The unison head snakes in and around the pathway until Sprague lights down on a single-note which he scrapes with the edge of his pick. Price alternates between single pedal tones and double-stops to ensure that the proceedings don't bog down. The melody comes at you in stages: just when one scene is about to settle in, a different set of ideas comes rushing by. Keezer's piano statements are crystalline with pin point accuracy, even at the blurring speed in which he performs them. Very creative.
The Geoffrey Keezer / Peter Sprague Band balances four enormously gifted individuals into a cohesive, blended unit. Mill Creek Road is an impressive beginning. Recommended.
Tracks: Thessaloniki; En Babia; India Zach; Mill Creek Road; Durga's Hammer; Etendue: Moot Point; Nightfall on the Serengeti.
Personnel: Geoffrey Keezer: piano; Peter Sprague: guitars; Hamilton Price: double bass; Duncan Moore: drums; Zach Harmon: tablas (3, 6); Erica Adams Ochoa: violin (6).