English pianist Howard Riley has found a late career champion in the Lithuanian No Business imprint. 10:11:12 constitutes his fourth release in as many years. In the liner to his previous album Live With Repertoire (2013), the pianist explained that he likes to characterize his gigs into with/without repertoire. As such this outing falls mainly into the latter camp, comprising as it does five inventions and a standard. Over the decades Riley has shown himself to be a master of both forms. His The Complete Short Stories: 1998-2010 (2011) stands at the pinnacle of his unaccompanied improvised work, and though the current issue doesn't match the sustained brilliance of that opus, the limited edition LP does show Riley in expansive mood.
Monk and Ellington loom large among the pianist's admitted influences, but neither is overtly obvious here, their stamp limited to rich harmonies and the odd off kilter dissonance amid short bursts of swing. Riley's imagination ranges freely embracing melody alongside abstraction. In fact much of the disc is remarkably consonant. Several of the cuts, especially when the pianist settles on ballad mode, suggest they might come from some forgotten pages of the Great American Songbook. Indeed the first few bars of "Dwelling One" sounds like a paraphrase of "Summertime," before spinning into passages of lurching time and sparkling notions, then closing with a prancing flourish.
Moments of high drama grab the ear throughout, most notably in "From Somewhere" which is paradoxically at the same time both slightly more angular and slightly more bluesy than much of the recital. Riley begins the selection with tremolos on dampened strings as part of a stuttering intro, to which he briefly returns at the end. As if sensing unfinished business he picks up the same gambit as the dominant motif of the sprightly "Identification" where by the end it resembles an urgently tapping Morse code. "Lush Life" begins with an extemporized form which fits neatly with the preceding tracks until the familiar theme appears just shy of three minutes in, and is then subject to subtle variations and digressions before finishing to deserved applause.
Track Listing: Dwelling One; Dwelling Two; Understanding; From Somewhere; Identification; Lush Life.
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