All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review


Phil Markowitz: Catalysis

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
With so many artists striving for attention, it's often easy to overlook those who have devoted their lives to music, known amongst musician circles as players of great depth while remaining largely below the radar. His discography as a leader may be small, but Phil Markowitz has, for the past three decades, been the pianist of choice for more visible artists including saxophonist David Liebman—in whose group he worked for a decade, collaborating on the dark-hued and pensive duet disc Manhattan Dialogues (Zoho, 2005) and, as part of the tenor trifecta Saxophone Summit, releasing Seraphic Light (Telarc, 2008)—and Yellowjackets saxophonist Bob Mintzer, heard most recently on In the Moment (Art of Life, 2007). Catalysis, Markowitz's first date as a leader since 1998, is a trio record that amply proves why he's so in-demand, and transcends preconceptions about what this sometimes over-worked format can and cannot be.

Over the course of eight original compositions, Markowitz leans towards a cerebral, impressionistic style that contrasts with another undervalued pianist, Marc Copland, in his ability to burn harder and with greater extroversion when necessary—another reason why he works so well with Liebman. With bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum onboard—two more players who've racked up countless sessions and tours, yet remain mysteriously lesser known—Markowitz has a flexible trio capable of navigating "Undercurrents," which references its title by fluidly traversing a broad range of styles while demonstrating an organic ebb and flow. Complex, yet never for its own sake, the song's transitions are so seamless as to be nearly invisible, with Nussbaum crossing over from mid-tempo swing to high velocity turbulence, near-funk and shuffle, only to return to ambling swing as Markowitz's lengthy head opens up. Markowitz's solo evolves over a similarly shifting landscape anchored by Anderson, its constant twists and turns as seemingly unpredictable as the undercurrents to which it references; though the trio's effortless movements make clear that this is anything but unplanned.

"Waiting," Catalysis' other lengthy track at nearly 12 minutes, demonstrates Markowitz's ability to go long without ever overstaying his welcome. A solo piano opening treads the line between ethereal abstraction and a dramatic introduction of the theme and ambience of the piece; but when Anderson and Nussbaum enter after Markowitz's intro fades to black, it becomes a lyrical but harmonically dark ballad that moves in and out of time. Markowitz shares the melody with Anderson, whose solo is one of economical perfection.

Catalysis may be categorized as a mainstream disc, and its roots in the tradition are clear—albeit in the broadest possible terms. Still, when Markowitz, Anderson and Nussbaum pack what they do into the fiery and acutely interactive title track, any beliefs that mainstream need inherently suggest safe, predictable or unchallenging are quickly forgotten. Markowitz and his constantly risk-taking trio—capable of keeping the interplay at an empathic level while navigating his demanding yet compelling charts—make Catalysis a sure contender for one of the year's best, piano trio or otherwise.

Track Listing: M.D.A.; For the Sake of

Personnel: Phil Markowitz: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Title: Catalysis | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
General Articles
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles


Dot Time Records



Sunnyside Records


Related Articles

Read Peaks of Light CD/LP/Track Review
Peaks of Light
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 18, 2018
Read In Denmark I Was Born CD/LP/Track Review
In Denmark I Was Born
by Gareth Thompson
Published: March 18, 2018
Read In Copenhagen - Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983 CD/LP/Track Review
In Copenhagen - Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983
by Chris Mosey
Published: March 18, 2018
Read A Year Ago Today CD/LP/Track Review
A Year Ago Today
by Doug Collette
Published: March 18, 2018
Read Dreams of Belonging CD/LP/Track Review
Dreams of Belonging
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 18, 2018
Read Ravensburg CD/LP/Track Review
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: March 17, 2018
Read "Through The Hours" CD/LP/Track Review Through The Hours
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: May 12, 2017
Read "Black Focus" CD/LP/Track Review Black Focus
by Rokas Kucinskas
Published: July 23, 2017
Read "Ancient Agents" CD/LP/Track Review Ancient Agents
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 28, 2017
Read "Small Pieces" CD/LP/Track Review Small Pieces
by James Nadal
Published: April 6, 2017
Read "Ugly Beauty" CD/LP/Track Review Ugly Beauty
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "Holiday On Fire" CD/LP/Track Review Holiday On Fire
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: April 27, 2017