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Los Angeles pianist/arranger/composer David Arnay releases his third recording as a leader in the theme-minded 8. Eight signifies both the number of selections on the disc as well as the sequential sum of instruments added to each performance, from solo to octet performance. So, the premise is Arnay adds one instrument to each piece as he ascends from one to eight.
Arnay's thematic approach is both clever and educational. He opens the disc with a swinging solo performance of Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol's "Caravan." Arnay's left hand is in total command of the piece while his right informs of the melody and improvisation. His solo is well constructed and optimally paced on this one of two standards among the eight selections. His sure command of the keyboard demonstrated here directs the remainder of the disc.
The addition of Edwin Livingston's bass on "11-12-11" and then drummer Peter Erskine on "Billville" illustrates the filling out of the standard jazz rhythm section. Livingston's sure sense of time and Erskine's generously considered drumming make a trio recording of the three very attractive. Arnay proves an ideal accompanist for the bass solo, knowing just how much filigree to supply beneath the bass.
Tenor saxophonist Doug Webb joins the trio, creating the time-tested horn-fronted jazz quartet on "Step Four." Arnay's composition harkens back to that hinge between hard and post bop, where rules and progressions did not fully give way to the greater freedom to come. Webbs tone is slippery and facile. The quintet offering, "Old Man Says" has Webb doubling on bass clarinet and adding percussionist Munyungo Jackson, who fills in some rhythmic silences. Jackson provides a vaguely ethnic mode overwhich Webb and Arnay modulate.
With the greater band complexity, comes richer and deeper composition and playing. the sextet arrangement of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" transforms the chordally dense piece into a breezy island sway highlighting Paco Loco's piquant guitar playing. Thematically well-developed, 8 wins points on both its invention and listenability. multi-reedist Webb shows off his wealth of skills just as Arnay redefines what "arrangement" means.
Track Listing: Caravan; 11/12/11; Billville; Step Four; Old Man Says; Giant Steps Six
of One; Dream Groove.