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Glenn Zaleski: Fellowship

Dan Bilawsky By

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Ever overcook a dish? The end result is usually dry and wilted. How about undercooking? Has one of your meals ever succumbed to that fate? If it has, you've probably been disappointed by the raw and shapeless dish sitting before you. In composition, as in cooking, you need to find the perfect temperature that sits between those extremes. Go too far in either direction and the magic is ruined. Pianist Glenn Zaleski gets that. "Overwriting can stifle improvisation, but underwriting can result in monotony and chaos," he notes in his liner essay for this project. Knowing how far to go and when to stop is the challenge, and it's one that Zaleski lives up to again and again on Fellowship.

Those who were enamored with Zaleski's classics-heavy My Ideal (Sunnyside Records, 2015) will likely be won over by the charms of this one. With the same trio and a different focus, it makes for the perfect companion piece. This program leans toward originals, giving Zaleski, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Craig Weinrib a chance to play with the pianist's recipes. That trio strikes a fine balance between instinctive movement and proper discourse throughout. The music manages to be held in place by intellectual girding, but it's constantly transformed and redirected through responsive maneuvering. Trite as it may be to hail yet another piano trio for its strengths in the open-eared interplay department, the compliment fits here. You can't argue with finely and constantly calibrated music.

The album takes off with "Table Talk," a propulsive vehicle enlivened by Zaleski's slaloming runs and powered by the Douglas-Weinrib engine. Then a change of mood comes quickly with "Westinghouse," a prismatic waltz dedicated to Billy Strayhorn. From there it's off to Duke Pearson's "Is That So," a debonair swinger that's self-assured in its delivery; "Fellowship," a work founded on and furthered by ruminative notions; "Out Front," a firm-footed, fifty-one second Douglas solo that serves as the introduction to the flowing "Homestead"; and "Lifetime," a vibrant, angular blues that proves to be one of the album highlights.

Those seven tracks give a strong enough and clear enough picture of what this trio is all about, but they don't tell the whole story. Zaleski and company save some of the most memorable music for last. In the penultimate position rests the second of two non-originals on the playlist—John Coltrane's "Central Park West." It's a song that's putty in this trio's collective hands, as one beautiful shape or phrase after another emerges in the telling of the tale. Then Fellowship reaches the finish line with "P.S.," a composition inspired by the work of vibraphonist-composer Peter Schlamb. It's an engrossing number that's at once elegant and loose in design, reverberating instantly on a deep emotional level. Some of Weinrib's most individualistic soloing on the record comes to the fore on this wonderfully fitful finale.

Glenn Zaleski has quickly become one of the most important pianists of his generation and it's easy to see why. He's a studied musician who's not bound by the rules, a believer in exactness who's willing to overturn order, and a precision architect who understands that musical designs are malleable. Following him on sideman dates for the last few years has been a pleasure; hearing him lead his own sessions is an even greater one. These ears look forward to following Zaleski wherever he may roam.

Track Listing: Table Talk; Westinghouse; Is That So; Fellowship; Out Front; Homestead; Lifetime; Central Park West; P.S.

Personnel: Glenn Zaleski: pianoforte; Dezron Douglas: contrabbasso; Craig Weinrib: batteria.

Title: Fellowship | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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