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If New York pianist John Stetch has his way about it, we'll never find ourselves in a McWorld. Stetch approaches each tune on Heavens of a Hundred Days from a slightly different angle, yielding a record that is anything but uniform or prepackaged. The tunes on Heavens include solo, duo, trio, and quartet arrangements of Stetch's original compositions plus a couple of standards. The liner notes assert a distinct philosophical concept underlying every tune, ranging from Isaiah to Rilke to Kandinsky (who's surprisingly underappreciated in jazz circles). Like a puzzle, the improvised performances can be placed in the right context in order to yield the listener a fuller understanding of the ideas churning behind each piece.
One doesn't need to study the text, however, to enjoy Heavens the music certainly can stand alone. The quartet performances range from the understated tension of the title track to the outgoing gusto of "Rondeau"; the improvised piano-saxophone duets tend toward a sparser, more interactive call-and-response feel. In the absence of McHenry's gently persuasive saxophone voice, the trio whispers, swings, or pounds away, depending on the context. Stetch is the unabashed leader, coaxing these changes out of the group. His stylistic range is broad, though he spends the most time in the Jarrett/Mehldau zone of quietly projected tension and release. He receives ample but unobtrusive support from bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard. Ballard's playing, in particular, provides for surprising rhythmic continuity between open spaces, gently swinging melodies, and onward rushing gallops. Variety is the only item on Stetch's menu on Heavens of a Hundred Days one has the feeling that, given another fifty tracks, there'd still never be two alike.
Track Listing: Heavens of a Hundred Days; Urakawa; Rondeau; Duet #1; Love For Sale; Autumn in New York; Point; Duet #2; McWorld; Heavens of a Hundred Days (solo).
Personnel: John Stetch: piano; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Ben Street: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me. Try as I might, I was never able to achieve a high enough level of competency to perform at the level I was first and subsequently exposed to. Regardless, I was hooked on jazz and remain so to this day.