With the surprising wealth of exceptional music out there, discovering any new artist is always a treat. But when one comes across a performer as impressive as Jack Reillya pianist who, while performing for over 45 years, has mysteriously remained outside the watchful eye of the greater jazz fan basethat joy of discovery is equally coloured with a sense of curiosity. After all and with rare exception, Reilly has worked solely under his own steam, releasing a small body of work that ranges from collaborating with artists like singer Sheila Jordan, bassist Harvie Swartz, and saxophonist Joe Maneri on his impressive '98 release Masks, to producing a series of solo piano works that include the two-volume Tzu-Jan and, most recently, Pure Passion: Solo Piano Improvisations.
For those new to Reilly, Pure Passion is a perfect entry point, mixing a programme of ten standardssome well-heeled, others less sowith half a dozen Reilly originals, demonstrating his outside-the-box interpretive skills. The pianist is faithful to every song's core, while spinning a new and imaginative tale each time.
Reilly's ability to liberally expand on a song without losing sight of what makes it distinctive demands obvious reference to Keith Jarrett. But the fact is, that while Jarrett's piano improvisationseven when they're based around a popular tuneare a kind of stream-of-consciousness catharsis, Reillywho is no more restricted by conventionseems somehow more considered, even as he takes a tune like "'Round Midnight and refashions it. Reilly makes sure that there are some familiar signposts along the way, but how he navigates between them is completely unexpected. Sometimes it's not the destination but how you get there, and Reilly consistently makes his improvisations trips worth taking, filled with enticing sights and surprising turns.
Reilly's unfettered use of dynamics and an elastic time sense, only possible in a solo setting, allows an oft-covered tune like "Summertime to take on a completely different complexion. He leans to the impressionistic and at times the romantic, but there's a more direct tie to classical roots than to pianists like Bill Evansalthough there's no question that Evans factors into Reilly's collected experience. But what makes Pure Passion so remarkable is that, despite its reliance on the standards repertoire, it's a completely contemporary work. All the while it retains the accessibility and sense of tradition that more rooted players like Hank Jones or Cedar Walton demonstrate under the same circumstances.
The true test of an interpreter of standards material, in the context of a larger solo performance, is whether he can somehow blur the line between the familiar and the unfamiliar, connecting the listener equally to both. Reilly doesn't apply a different aesthetic to his own compositionsthey demonstrate the same road markers, giving them a discernable structure, yet often weave their way between them in less than predictable ways.
With Pure Passion as an entry point to the talents of Jack Reilly, the good news is that there's plenty more where that came from.
Personnel: Jack Reilly: piano.