Keeping up with the wealth of talent around the world is a challenge, but when it's someone as talented and distinctive as Australian pianist Barney McAll, it's well worth the effort. In addition to film scoring, McAll has built a small but substantial discography and reputation of merit over the past decade by exploring many juncturesAfro-Cuban music and spirituality meeting with a modernistic jazz sensibility that's colored with traces of fusion and electronics, elegant classicism and urban groove. Despite its diversity, McAll's music possesses a coherence that shares much in common with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, so it's not surprising to discover that McAll was a member of the guitarist's touring band in support of his groundbreaking Heartcore (Verve, 2003); while Rosenwinkel appeared on McAll's Release the Day (Transparent Music, 2001).
Rosenwinkel's return on Flashbacks is undeniably definitive, the shared commonality in clear view; but so too are the differences between McAll and the guitarist. On his own, Rosenwinkel would never adopt the head-banging, heavily overdriven persona he does on the episodic "Red and Black Shifts," a traditional tune taken to unexpected places, running the gamut from metal-tinged aggro to McAll's percussion-driven piano solo. Still, Rosenwinkel demonstrates the same staggering ability to execute wide intervallic leaps and a litheness of phrasing increasingly apparent since his own The Remedy (ArtistShare, 2008). Equally, McAll can move seamlessly from oblique lyricism to flat-out abstraction at the drop of a dime, as he does on the expansive title track, which owes something to the oftentimes deceptive accessibility of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays' music, but remains unmistakably part of McAll's overall aesthetic.
Along with a core quintet also featuring bassist Drew Gress and drummer Obed Calvaire, McAll mixes it up with the addition of horns on many of the tracks, including Joshua Rosemanwith whom the pianist works in the trombonist's big band, Extended Constellations, and smaller group, The Water Surgeons. McAll also employs a handmade device, affectionately called Chucky, on a number of tracksa combination of glockenspiel, kalimba and electronics that, in addition to his synths, gives McAll the freedom to create celestial, textural sounds on tracks including "Red and Black Shifts" and the lyrical ballad, "Circle Cycle."
Esoteric he may be, but McAll also knows how to groove. "New Eyes" revolves around a soulful vamp, clarifying that even modernistic players have roots, as Rosenwinkel's octaves during the song's theme clearly reference Wes Montgomery by way of George Benson. McAll's solo is the perfect confluence of strong melodic motifs and unpredictable flights of harmonic fancy. "Costello" is more ethereala chamber-like piece with Rosenwinkel's abstruse melody doubled by saxophonist Tiger Rex, before McAll ends the album on an even more atmospheric note with the softly melancholic "Ten Days of Silence."
McAll's musical associations are enough to make him an artist worth checking out. With his compositional, textural and performance strengths though, he may be the best artist you've never heard in 2009, and Flashbacks a sure contender for this year's "best of" lists.
Elegua Dictate; Flashback; End Of Things Start Of Things; New Eyes;
Red And Black Shifts; Circle Cycle; Costello; Ten Days Of Silence.
Barney McAll: piano, chucky, keyboards; Jay Rodriguez: tenor sax (1-
4, 6); Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar (1-7); Josh Roseman: trombone (1-4,
6); Drew Gress: bass (2-4, 6, 7); Jonathan Maron: electric
bass (1, 5); Mat Palvoka: bass (8); Obed Calvaire: drums (1-7);
George Schuller: drums (8); Pedrito Martinez: bata, percussion (1,
3-5); Tiger Rex: alto sax (7).
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