Billy Lester: Visceral (2009)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
On this set of five standards and one original, pianist Billy Lester displays a strong original approach to jazz improvisation. He also leads a flexible, yet muscular trio, that moves along with him with telepathic skill.
Lester has a wide range of approaches: single-note right-hand lines, dissonant block chords, left-hand bass runs that move in counterpoint to the right hand (and his use of the low register piano is fairly unique to most of what you hear from jazz pianists these days). All these different techniques are in the service of very focused improvised music. "Too Marvelous For Words" starts off as many piano introductions might, melody with chordsbut with something different in the chord voicings, sometimes more dissonance, sometimes unisons popping out of the texture to draw attention to an urgent motivebut there is always a lot of feeling in his performance. By the time Sean Smith (bass) and Russ Meissner (drums) enter, the improvisation can't wait to go deeper. "Out of Nowhere" is no less excited and after the prism-filtered version of the melody, the two-part invention begins with the right hand in the upper register and conversing left hand lines in the lower, amazingly staying out of the way of Smith's bass playing.
Certainly it's not unusual to hear "expanded" versions of standards on contemporary jazz recordings, though most of them are in the 10-minute duration rangethere is never a feeling of traveling over the same musical territory. "Just Friends," for instance, maybe one of the most covered standards, but Lester's version is spontaneous, fresh and deeply felt. The free-flowing, unbound-by-bar-lines rhythmic approach to melody reminds one of Lee Konitz's approach to standards; a listener is urged to drop the box that standards are usually placed in and follow the melodic line on its adventure through all the possibilities "Just Friends" can provide a dedicated improviser. About six and a half minutes in, Smith is also feeling the joy, spinning out melodies from his instrument's upper register and functioning as the second bass drummer in the low register. When Lester reenters to begin trading eights with Meissner, his playing continues to be highly inventive, never settling for jazz clichés simply because he's trading with drums.
Lester's sole original composition, "G-Minor Jazz," might be a 32-bar form, but it is through composed and as organic as his improvising. His blowing is so well formed that one cannot find the seam between the end of the written material and beginning of the improvising; each repeated listening reveals more details as this recording is nothing if not rich in them. For all the amazing musicianship and virtuosity contained in this highly recommended CD, the title, Visceral, tells you it's all about the feeling.
Track Listing: G Minor Jazz; You Go To My Head; Out of Nowhere; Too Marvelous For Words; Everything Happens To Me; Just Friends.
Personnel: Billy Lester: piano; Sean Smith: bass; Russ Meissner: drums.
Record Label: Coppens Records
Style: Modern Jazz