Jim Pearce Washington Square Park
Atlanta-based pianist Jim Pearce is such a busy working musician (he averages over four hundred gigs per year ) that one wonders how he even found the time to record his new CD Washington Square Park his first since 2003's Thirty Year Waltz. All curiosity about his schedule aside, Pearce has produced another winner. This is outstanding mainstream jazz.
Pearce's piano style meshes perfectly with his solid, memorable compositions: his solos exhibit exquisite melodic phrasing with a strategic use of rests coupled with interesting left-hand voicings. His solo choruses on the swaying 6/8 "Debbie's Blue Bicycle, the album's opening track, show these traits off perfectlyand the tune itself is good enough to become a standard. The leader's more than ably supported by a fine band of bassist Herman Burney, drummer Paul Fallat, saxophonist/flautist Eric South and trumpeter Joe Gransden and, to a lesser extent, acoustic guitarist/trombonist Ken Gregory. All of them have their moments, but South is a revelation: he plays various saxophones and flute memorably (Pearce isn't averse to overdubbing him during some of the ensembles to add some color and heft). His greasy tenor brings "Fried Everything to life and he gleefully eats up the changes of the swinging waltz "Thirty Three and a Third on altomoreover, he looks all of sixteen in the CD's photographs. Who is this guy?
That said, this is Pearce's album and he's packed it with good material. "Washington Square Park is a vocal feature for René Marie, who sings it beautifully and intelligentlythe way her voice shoots up an octave on the word "bird is thrilling, but Pearce is always there too, responding. "Not in Nine is a bracing Latin number with memorable comping from the leader and deft ride cymbal work from Fallat. Pearce switches to organ for the aforementioned "Fried Everything, a steaming groove number with Gregory somehow getting funky on nylon-stringed acoustic. (Pearce is his own man on piano, but his Hammond C-3 licks are actually evocative of, of all people, Rod Argentto these ears, anyway.)
And then there are the album's glorious ballads. "Dreaming in Van Gogh Colors is done in a trio format and here the leader taps deep reservoirs of feeling over delicate brushwork from Fallat and majestic bowed bass from Burney. "Debbie's Birthday Song is more a prayer than a ballad, gorgeously wide-eyed and hopeful; while it features Gransden, it contains some of Pearce's best playingagain, that unique phrasing, that distinctive use of rests.
Pearce does some singing on two of the album's tracks and his voice is very enjoyablehe sounds like a more mush-mouthed Bob Dorough. His big vocal feature, "Buddy's Marmelade, is pure Dixieland, right down to the polyphony of guest Don Erdman's clarinet and Gregory's tailgate trombone. The leader also scats convincingly on "Boppin and a Beepin, which also has some more great tenor work from South.
Which brings us to the album's only real flaw. Every tune on Washington Square Park works. There is, however, an occasional rockiness to its pacing: the organ groove of "Fried Everything sits uneasily between the Latin swing of "Not in Nine and the lush, quasiclassical balladry of "Dreaming in Van Gogh Colors. The Dixieland "Buddy's Marmelade isn't the greatest lead-in to the Blue Note vibe of "Wooden Horses. It's all excellent music, but it's not a cohesive album.
Still, Washington Square Park is a powerful reminder that not all great jazz pianist/composers are signed to Verve or Blue Noteor work out of New York. And as you read these words, Jim Pearce is probably out there playing somewhere. Let's be thankful he found the time to get this one recorded.
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Personnel: Jim Pearce: piano, organ (#4), vocal (#8,10); Herman Burney, acoustic bass; Paul Fallat: drums; Eric South: saxophones, flute; Joe Gransden: trumpet; Ken Gregory: acoustic guitar, valve trombone (#8); René Marie, vocal (#2); Don Erdman: clarinet (#8); Bill Rutan: banjo (#8)
Track Listing: 1. Debbie's Blue Bicycle 2. Washington Square Park 3. Not in Nine 4. Fried Everything 5. Dreaming in Van Gogh Colors 6. One Thousand Suns 7. Thirty Three and a Third 8. Buddy's Marmelade 9. Wooden Horses 10. Boppin and a Beepin 11. Debbie's Birthday Song