Still only in his early thirties, pianist Florian Ross is emerging as a pianist and composer worthy of serious attention. His latest trio release, Blinds & Shades, delivers on the promise of his earlier Naxos Jazz recordings with a set that is challenging, while at the same time constantly engaging.
Amongst the artists he has studied with are Don Friedman, Jim McNeely and John Taylor. It is the Taylor connection that is especially evident in this set: impressionistic and romantic, but with a strong sense of urgency and an innate ability to swing. Ross, like Taylor and younger pianists including Tord Gustavsen and Esbjorn Svensson, represents the best of the European approach to improvised music: strong ties to classical composers, yet with a foot firmly planted in American soil to give the music a subtle element of the blues.
Working with Ross since his last Naxos release, Lilacs and Laughter , drummer John Hollenbeck is on equal footing with the leader, as is bassist Remi Vignolo. The interplay between the players is palpable; each player has the freedom to, in turns, lead and follow. This is especially evident on tracks like “Farewell,” where Ross’ improvisation is captured and echoed by both Hollenbeck and Vignolo.
There is a quiet intensity about the way these three players work together. Even the poignant “Ev’ry Now and Then (Pause and Think Again)” builds from a whisper to Ross’ driving, pulsing solo, where Vignolo and Hollenbeck work underneath, hand-in-glove.
A highlight of the disk is the one standard, “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Often when one or two standards are thrown into a set of originals, they stand out and draw away from the overall focus of the album; in this case Ross reworks the tune harmonically so that it fits seamlessly into the program.
Some connection can be drawn between the inner workings of this trio and Esbjorn Svensson's trio. There is a certain freedom in terms of how melodies are stated; sometimes the piano makes the statement, other times the double-bass, and yet other times in unison, as on “Getting There (is Half the Fun).” A lyricism pervades the music; but where Ross differs is that the pop sensibility that Svensson displays is nowhere to be found. The tunes are harmonically more dense and, therefore, more challenging, once again drawing back to the clear influence that John Taylor has had on Ross, both in performance and composition.
With Blinds & Shades Florian Ross delivers an album that continues to assert his position as a contemporary European composer and improviser of note.
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