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Nancy Walker: When She Dreams (2004)

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Nancy Walker: When She Dreams How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The dividends paid by working with the same core group of musicians can be significant. Canadian pianist Nancy Walker has been working with bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Barry Romberg since her '97 début, Invitation , and has continued to do so for her subsequent releases, '00's Luminosity and '02's Levitation. For her latest release, When She Dreams , Walker also brings back saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, also featured on Levitation , and the result is an album of contemporary post bop with the kind of interplay that can only come from playing together regularly.

Walker's influences are broad, from the more complex changes of her homage to Wayne Shorter, "Thirty," to the slightly-funkified Horace Silver-informed "Blues for the Hatchet Man," which Walker differentiates by adding a darker hue to the tag of each round, as well as an odd number of bars to give the whole piece a more unsettled edge. Harmonically she's influenced by the usual suspects—Evans, Hancock, Jarrett, etc.—but her delicate touch and denser harmonic constructs brings to mind British pianist John Taylor as well. MacDonald brings the connection home as well, having played with Taylor on his own release, '01's Pure and Simple. He possesses a refreshingly unaffected tone, distinctive in its purity and lack of vibrato.

But what really makes this session standout is the clear empathy that exists between the players (although Romberg is replaced by Anthony Michelli on two tracks). It's difficult to know who is leading who when they lock into rhythmic figures—and it doesn't really matter, does it—but the degree of chemistry makes for some exciting stuff. Catch Romberg and Walker, in particular, hitching up during her solos on "Reckoning" and "June."

Walker's music is easy on the ears, but don't mistake that for lacking in interest or challenge, because she masks an advanced harmonic concept within an accessible veneer. In that regard she is similar to Icelandic ex-pat Sunna Gunnlaugs, whose recent recording, Live in Europe is similarly compelling. Still, whereas Gunnlaugs' compositions tend to the melancholic, there is more light in Walker's work. But by constructing music with memorable themes and playing it in an impassioned and rounded way with a group of musicians with whom she obviously feels comfortable but not necessarily safe, Walker has created an album with wide appeal.

Track Listing: Vigil; Reckoning; Thirty; A la Brunante; June; Blues for the Hatchet Man; When She Dreams; Oxygen Prelude; Oxygen.

Personnel: Nancy Walker: piano; Kieran Overs: bass; Kirk MacDonald: tenor and alto saxophone; Barry Romberg: drums (2-6, 8, 9); Anthony Michelli: (1, 7).

Record Label: Justin Time Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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