John Stetch: Heavens of a Hundred Days
Pianist John Stetch enlists tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Jeff Ballard on this contemplative yet stimulating release. Each track is paired in the liner notes with a quotation or reference that served as Stetch's inspiration. These diverse influences range from Rilke, Kandinsky, and singer/songwriter Mike Rud to political theorist Benjamin Barber. Stetch's intellectual nature comes across in the music without being stultifying or overly serious, making this an album of exceptional candor and expressiveness.
"Heavens of a Hundred Days," an opening ballad that takes its title from a line in a Rilke poem, features a soft-toned McHenry floating on a lush harmonic cloud. Far and away the album's best track, it sounds like something Charles Lloyd might have included on one of his ECM quartet sessions. McHenry also appears on the lively "Rondeau," the free piece "McWorld," and two piano/tenor duets, simply titled "Duet #1" and "Duet #2," which recall the duo selections by Kenny Werner and Joe Lovano on Werner's recent Beauty Secrets. The remainder of the album features Stetch in a trio context, sounding something like a cross between David Berkman and Brad Mehldau. The Eastern-influenced "Urakawa" and the up-tempo, swinging "Point" reveal two very different sides of Stetch's compositional style. And two standards, an inventive, grooving version of "Love for Sale" and a sumptuous "Autumn in New York," demonstrate Stetch's unique take on the tradition. The concluding piece, a solo piano rendition of the title track, delves back into the influence of Rilke, with poetic results.
Track Listing: Heavens of a Hundred Days; Urakawa; Rondeau; Duet #1; Love for Sale; Autumn in New York; Point; Duet #2; McWorld; Heavens of a Hundred Days (solo).
Personnel: John Stetch: piano; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Ben Street: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.