The concept of combining elements of classical music with jazz is hardly a new one. George Shearing, Miles Davis, Andre Previn and Bill Evans are just a few of the countless artists to blur the lines between the nightclub the concert hall. With Crossing Point
, enormously gifted Bay Area pianist and composer Gini Wilson (a.k.a. The Duchess) puts her own spin on the concept with a musical direction she has labeled "chamberjazz." With the intuitive support of Steve Heckman on saxophones and flute, Paul Breslin and John Wiitala on bass, and Ron Marabuto on drums, Wilson performs an eclectic repertoire of quartet pieces and solo piano tracks that delight no matter which side of the jazz/classical dichotomy you occupy.
Wilson is a highly trained musician who is informed by the best elements of classical music and jazz. Emotion-drenched chord progressions, a percussive right hand and effortlessly floating harmonies are just a few of the tools she employs to convey her deeply personal musical statements. Wilson's precise execution sounds nothing short of regal on Heckman's invigorating "Tango d'Amour Perdu," while her memorable "Mountain Path/Mountain Meadow" swings on a deliciously Monk-ish theme with the help of intelligently crafted passages by Heckman on soprano.
As strong as the up-tempo numbers are, Gini Wilson seems far more at ease with descriptive compositions like Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" and her moving tribute "The Fires Of September (9-11)." These tracks reinforce Wilson's reputation for delicate, deeply emotional playing and they open up wide spaces for her to flex her considerable skills. But in jazz, it doesn't take long for impressionism to turn somnambulant, as her approach begins to veer dangerously into muzak territory on songs like "Luminoso." Similarly, her interpretation of Eric Satie's composition "Satie In The Sahara" would have been more compelling if played with more vigor. Much more enjoyable are Wilson's dazzling displays of technique on the waltzing "Smith's Song," the mystic melodicism of Wayne Shorter's "Aung San Suu Kyi" and the seductive Astor Piazzolla tango "Adios Nonino."
The closing track "J.S. Monk" is at once a playful song and an object lesson of why The Crossing Point falls a bit short of Wilson's musical vision. While most of the record finds Wilson bouncing from classical to jazz, "J.S. Monk" finds her blending jaunty Bach-inspired melodies with Monk-inspired staccato bursts, galvanizing the two styles in the process. It's the closest she comes to "chamberjazz" in the entire recording. Of course, there's no hiding that Wilson's strength rests firmly on the classical side of the equation. But music this tasteful and accomplished cannot be bound by genres. The Crossing Point is a compelling listen for those with open ears.
Personnel: Gini Wilson: piano.
Steve Heckman: flute, soprano and tenor saxophone.
Paul Breslin: bass.
John Wiitala: bass.
Ron Marabuto: drums.