A canvas is often viewed as a neutral starting point, but it needn't be so. Even a so-called "blank" space can be suffused with certain color(s) before brushstrokes are ever applied, as Brandi Disterheft reminds us. Her fourth album is a trio date painted atop, around, over, and with the color blue. It's a work that uses various shades and hues of the titular color to form a connective design, or if you prefer, a loose theme, built with confident swinging and singing of the cool and hot varieties.
Disterheft's multi-hyphenate statusbassist, vocalist, composer, and now, cellistpaints her as an artist with deep talent who knows what she wants to achieve and how to get there. But she's not a domineering musical personality. Hers is a loose authority that draws out the best in a song and the people around her. So you can imagine how good it might sound when those songs include some classics and well-crafted originals and those people are world-class players. She tapped two such respected veterans to fill out this triooctogenarian piano icon Harold Mabern and model-of-swing drummer Joe Farnsworthand the results are predictably good.
A performance at the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival gave Disterheft a chance to test-drive this group, but this band was probably road-ready before she ever took it for a spin. Everything here is finely calibrated to allow for a smooth and exciting ride. Bobby Timmons' waltzing hard bop standard "Dis Here" sets things in motion, giving all three players a chance to shine in a cheery setting. Direction changes quickly though, as Disterheft delivers a weighty "Prelude To The Crippling Thrill" all by her lonesome. It's a perfect mood-setter for the song proper, a number that opens and closes with a slow-and-slinky tom groove that underscores Disterheft's enchanting vocals, only switching to a swing feel for Mabern's engaging solo at the core. Then there's a take on Mabern's Lee Morgan-associated "Beehive," a performance that gives Farnsworth a chance to fill the gaps with his crafty stick work; a ballad-ish makeover of Clifford Brown's "Daahoud" that spotlights some stride-influenced piano; the snazzy, swinging title track, giving Disterheft's bass and vocals their due; and a return trip to the Brown catalog in the form of the infrequently-covered "George's Dilemma."
The final trio of tracksthe waltzing "When The Mood Is Right," a bright "Our Delight," and a mellow "Willow Weep For Me"are all swingers of different stripes. That last number inexplicably ends with a fade-out, bringing the album to a close without the sense of finality that one has come to expect when the curtains go down. It's an odd way to finish, but it makes you wonder what happened after the faders fell. You're left wanting more, and that's never a bad thing.
Dis Here; Prelude To The Crippling Thrill; Crippling Thrill; Beehive; Daahoud; Blue Canvas; George's Dilemma; When The Mood Is Right; Our Delight; Willow Weep For Me.
Brandi Disterheft: bass, cello, vocals; Harold Mabern: piano; Joe Farnsworth: drums.
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