Pianist Geoffrey Keezer's career has consistently delivered on the early promise he displayed when he first emerged on the scene as a precocious nineteen year-old in Art Blakey's last Jazz Messengers. In the past fifteen years he's recorded and/or toured alongside contemporaries Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride, in addition to working with legends like Ray Brown and Art Farmer.
But since the early part of this decade, and with two projects in particular, Keezer has truly emerged from under the stylistic umbrella of influence by the usual jazz suspects. His own solo outing Zero One (Dreyfus, 2000) found him exploring a repertoire of largely original music, putting his interest in 20th Century classical composers and contemporary pop music alongside his unequivocal understanding of the jazz tradition. His collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke on British woodwind multi-instrumentalist Tim Garland's two Storms/Nocturnes Trio recordings further solidified his appreciation for combining detailed through-composition with more interactive interplay.
Wildcrafted: Live at the Dakota finds Keezer and his trio with bassist Matt Clohesy and the increasingly ubiquitous drummer Terreon Gully exploring a repertoire that, while heavily weighted towards his own writing, also looks as far afield as contemporary Okinawan composers Naohiko Uehara and Sadao China, intrepid pop songstress Björk, and more traditional jazz artists Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.
Some groups take their time to warm up, but the set openerGoodman's chestnut "Stompin' at the Savoy, radically transformed from swing staple to something more powerfully modernwastes no time in establishing the trio's fearless approach. As if Keezer's flat-out solo isn't enough to galvanize the audience, Gully's frenetic but never superfluous playing raises the energy level even further.
Keezer's writing tends to revolve around complicated thematic structures. "Tea and Watercolors runs through a gamut of tightly knit ideas before settling into the pedal-tone modal vamp that forms the core of Keezer's solo. It's a challenge to build a solo over a static harmonic backdrop, but Keezer's sense of narrative and the empathic responsiveness of Clohesy and Gully maintain interest throughout. The trio's take on the Latin-informed "Mirim is more intense, and taken at a faster clip, than the version on Falling Up (MaxJazz, 2003).
While acoustic piano is Keezer's main axe, he also uses the Fender Rhodes to broaden his sonic palette, indicating that for him texture is of equal importance. On the ballad "Koikugari Bushi Keezer processes the Rhodes heavily, creating a cloudlike cushion of sound that's distanced from the instrument's typically bell-like timbre, an approach he also uses effectively on a reggae-inflected version of Björk's "Venus as a Boy.
As Keezer's career unfolds, it's clear that he's capable of operating in the same space as other artists who are incorporating a myriad of contemporary influences. But unlike Esbjörn Svensson, his pop sensibility shimmers underneath a more vivid surface layer of jazz tradition; and unlike Brad Mehldau, he tends to more complex composition. The compelling compositional appeal and improvisational élan of Wildcrafted mark Keezera player transcending his early roots and now emerging as a more well-rounded artistas clearly worthy of equal attention.
Personnel: Geoffrey Keezer: piano, Fender Rhodes; Matt Clohesy: bass; Terreon Gully: drums.