Sight and vision are not
the same thing, and pianist Justin Kauflin is a testament to this fact. While a rare eye disease robbed Kauflin of his sight by the time he was eleven years old, his artistic vision and sense of purpose remain intact. Kauflin's classical training initially placed him on a certain path, but a detour toward jazz during his high school years, followed by further studies at William Patterson University, where he earned a degree in Music/Jazz Performance and worked with trumpet legend Clark Terry
, solidified his intent to pursue a life in jazz.
For his debut date, Kauflin calls on his trio, which consists of one young-old friend with a shared playing history, drummer Billy Williams
, and one newer acquaintance that fits comfortably within the musical mold he created, bassist Phil Kuehn
. While several tracks also benefit from guest spots, the majority of the program remains a trio outing, and an impressive one at that. Kauflin's crew covers an eclectic array of material, ranging from The Beatles ("A Day In The Life") and Mulgrew Miller
("Return Trip"), tp religious hymns ("Be Thou My Vision" and "Abide With Me") and modern originals, but they manage to make it all fit comfortably within the confines of his aural conception.
The young pianist possesses a touch that can only be characterized as sparkling, and he takes a rhythmic approach to the piano that pushes boundaries, yet remains wholly coherent and accessible at all times. Kauflin nimbly navigates his way through "The Covenant," delivers serpentine lines in unison with guitarist Etan Haziza on "Lucid Thoughts," and uses a straightforward solo piano introduction on "A Day In The Life" as a launching pad for luxuriant explorations with some rhythmic twists thrown into the mix.
Alto saxophonist Tim Green
joins the band for "Delfeayo's Dilemma," an '80s classic from Wynton Marsalis
' Black Codes From The Underground
(Columbia, 1985), and "The Covenant, which both benefit from his energetic performances. In keeping with convention on jazz recordings, Kauflin also throws in the requisite waltz ("Three For Glasper") and goes head-to-head with Williams, as they trade solos on "Return Trip."
These nine tracks are ample proof that Kauflin can cover all his bases, and he's clearly ready for whatever comes next. Like Art Tatum
, George Shearing
, Ray Charles
and Marcus Roberts
before him, Kauflin is living, playing proof that talent and drive can still triumph in the face of adversity. Introducing Justin Kauflin
announces a major talent, and it will surely be interesting to see where he goes next.