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Pablo Held: Forest of Oblivion

Dan McClenaghan By

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In every review of Pablo Held's debut, Forest of Oblivion, the pianist's age will be discussed. Don't blame the writers. Held, hailing from Germany, was born in 1986. His age, at the time the CD was recorded, was 21. It's a remarkably tender age for having crafted an original musical statement; it's even more remarkable for its high quality.

On this piano trio outing, the sound is thoughtful and introspective, to go with well-placed percussive forays and injections of energetic momentum; and if he must be put in a school—as in the exuberantly percussive Bud Powell school; the quirky Thelonious Monk bebop school; the intelligent and gorgeously harmonic and inventively melodic Bill Evans school—Held could be compared most closely to one of jazz's modern giants, Brad Mehldau.

Six of the ten tunes on the disc are Held originals, while "Interlude" is a trio improvisation. Tony Williams' "Hand Jive," from Miles Davis' Nefertiti (Columbia Records, 1967) and Wayne Shorter's "Ana Maria," from the saxophonist's Native Dancer (Columbia Records, 1974), are also covered, as well as Federico Mompou's "Pajaro Triste."

The Mehdau comparison comes from the feeling that Held's compositions seem full of a smoldering energy that is restrained—in a very good sense of the word—by a high level of classical erudition. No surprise there. Held comes out of prodigy territory, winning blue ribbon awards when he was 10 years old. There is also a searching, wandering, circle-back-on-themselves aspect, combined with a rich depth, to his compositions that retain a constant sound of surprise.

Held's "Phasen" features gorgeously subtle trio interplay, with drummer Jonas Burgwinkle injecting some energetic percussive interludes into the pensive and delicate Held keyboard touch. "Phase II," the set's closer, ups that interplay/spontaneity ante a notch.

"Two Questions One Answer" has an insistent momentum, while "Interlude" begins with a deep inward look that ruminates over the course of nearly three minutes. "Melody" begins in a similarly inward fashion, and features Held's adroitly delicate touch. "Vertigo" enlivens the atmosphere with a gregarious feeling riding on bassist Robert Landermann's prowling lines and drummer Burwinkel's soft rumble.

Held's Myspace page lists a long line of influences, from Oliver Messiaen to Billy Strayhorn, to Joni Mitchell and The Beatles. But on his debut he seems to be speaking in an original voice. It's a marvelous voice—and a first rate piano trio set. His evolution as an artist is going to be something to hear.

Track Listing: Two Questions One Answer; Forest of Oblivion; Hand Jive; Interlude; Phasen; Melody; Vertigo; Pajaro Triste; Ana Maria; Phase II.

Personnel: Pablo Held: piano; Robert Landfermann: bass; Jonas Burgwinkel: drums.

Title: Forest of Oblivion | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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