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Keyboardist Ron Oswanski is known primarily as an audacious organist. He does, however, also bring a unique agility to the accordion and is endowed with a lyrical touch on the piano as his debut album December's Moon amply demonstrates.
The dozen tunes cover modern jazz compositions, Oswanski's originals and a Led Zeppelin anthem. The wide range showcases his versatility as an improviser as well as his adroitness as a bandleader as he keeps august company on this recording with the likes of guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Clarence Penn to name a few.
Thematically speaking December's Moon can be divided into three sections. The first four tracks consist of ECM-esque sonic exploration; the next three are more rock infused tunes while the last five are in a more traditional vein. Bassist John Patitucci opens the title piece with his deep blue, sparse and pensive strings. Penn's brushes softly bubble like an underground stream. Saxophonist Tim Ries' acerbic soprano glides over the rhythmic embellishments of his band mates and is peppered with western classical allusions. As Oswanski's Hammond B3's slow simmer takes center stage, however, a profound soulfulness permeates the music with Ries's impassioned wail and Oswanski's elaborate vamps ushering in the conclusion.
The electrical deconstruction of "Ukrania Polka" is replete with Levantine and Tziganesque hints. Guitarist Jay Azzolina's angular interpretation brings a sense of adventure to the deceptively simple melody. Oswanski's haunting, yet edgy accordion constructs a tight and stimulating spontaneous musical structure. On this framework Ries weaves a fiery, vibrato filled solo that is at once intensely emotional and coolly intellectual.
The ambience changes on "Kayak," an organ trio workout that features Abercrombie's fast and intricate electric guitar lines that unfold with a boppish flair. Oswanski's multilayered organ lays out a tense, and blues drenched groove that leads to drummer Ian Froman's inventive chromatic polyrhythms.
The lush "Evanescence" is rooted in the style of its dedicatee; pianist Bill Evans. Oswanski's fluid, percolating piano shimmers against Patitucci's lilting tones and Penn's subtle yet driven trap and cymbal beats. Patitucci's pirouetting notes create a sublime and graceful sonic ballet over the sophisticated and melancholic motifs.
Abercrombie stretches out on the fusion-ish "Mercury Retrograde" with a progressive and hypnotic extemporization. Oswanski's exhilarating organ work pushes the boundaries bringing in faint folk and psychedelic sensibilities while Reis' wistful and nostalgic soprano meanders along Froman's understated and sophisticated thrums and beats.
Although somewhat short on textual cohesiveness, this multifaceted record is a bold and accomplished testament to Oswanski's versatile artistry and is quite a thrilling and intriguing ride.
Track Listing: White Meadow; Solo Por Undia; December's Moon; Ukrania Polka; Mercury Retrograde; The Rain Song; Sleeping Beauty; 80-80-8; Milk of the Moon; Standard Tile; Kayak; Evanessence.
Personnel: Ron Oswanski: Hammand B-3 Organ, piano, accordian; Tim Ries: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; John Abercrombie: electric guitar (1, 5, 8, 9, 11); Jay Azzolina: accoustic guitar, electric guitar (2, 4, 6); John Patitucci: bass; Clarence Penn: drums, percussion (2-4, 6, 12);
Ian Froman: drums (1, 5, 7-11).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.