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John Escreet: Music for This Age

R.J. DeLuke By

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You've just got to be open-minded and welcoming to new things. You've got to be embracing of any good music. Why not? Why would you want to be hostile to good music?
Looking forward—moving forward—is an essential quality to pianist John Escreet, a United Kingdom native who moved to the United States, specifically New York City, in 2008 to pursue an education at the Manhattan School of Music. So is achieving a unique sound and approach, both for artistic and practical reasons.

Escreet, age 22 when he moved from England, has been playing music on the modern edge of jazz with artists like David Binney, Ambrose Akinmusire and Tyshawn Sorey—all people who are merging improvisation with a slew of musical influences and creating fresh sounds. There's a lot of that going on in New York City and Escreet is elbow deep in it. He's very keen on forging his own voice, on his instrument and compositionally.

"The real goal is to basically create your own genre, without wanting to sound too pretentious or anything. Really, all my favorite musicians are successful at that," Escreet says. "Even though people may not view it like that, but it's technically what you're doing. If you aren't as strong as that you really kind of failed. Because if somebody wants your sound or wants you on a gig or recording, and you're the only one that can come close to achieving that sound, then the person in question only has the option to hire you.

"If you try to sound like other people, if you try and become an expert at sounding like this, or an expert in sounding like that, then trust me, there's always going to be someone who can outplay you or out-mimic you or out entertain you or whatever else. But if you're really serious about developing your own thing, then there's something more substantive. Dave [Binney] is a great example of that. Wayne Krantz is definitely an example of that, because there aren't guitarists that play anything close to how he plays. If I wanted Wayne, I would ask Wayne. But if Wayne wasn't available, the project wouldn't exist. I wouldn't get a Wayne Krantz substitute because that doesn't exist, in my mind. And the same goes for Dave."

Ask for them is exactly what Escreet did on The Age We Live In (Mythology Records, 2011), his third album as a leader. It includes Binney, with whom he has worked a lot since coming to the U.S., along with Krantz and drummer Chris Persad Group, The Dautaj, Marcus Gilmore , Coquito, Fri. It's an album of intense music that will appeal to those who enjoy intelligent music, including folks into rock or indie rock or whatever genre is out there and away from pop music.

He's always leaned toward music with a new edge, something being said that is a little different. He's been playing piano since he was a small child and has a strong classical background. He also listens for sounds and approaches that are different and gravitates toward them. Though he doesn't say so, he seems to not have much interest in mainstream jazz sounds anymore—not from the younger generation, anyway.

"I'm not really influenced by a lot of the music that's going on right now. I don't like much of the music that's going on right now. The stuff that I like, I love. I invest myself in it very deeply," he explains. "A lot of the stuff that is happening In New York, it's not that interesting. But there's a percentage of music I do consider to be interesting, that dominates my listening time, and my musical spectrum, so to speak. What I just said might come across a little extreme. I'm not trying to sound extreme. There is some very amazing music happening in New York. I surround myself with what I consider to be that music. I want to be a part of it. I want to learn from it. I'm influenced most by my musical associates and people like that."

The Age We Live In is a good example, and it's a representation of where Escreet stands today. That could change tomorrow. Escreet is fluid in his approach to music. He's open to all kinds of sounds. Some he might toss out as having little value. Others, he will incorporate. That decision comes from his own intuition, not from what others thing may be hip.

That makes the music stimulating. Also, not very predictable, which is thought-provoking.

Escreet says the new CD "reflects where I'm at right now. It reflects what I've been listening to over the last couple of years. It reflects music that I enjoy playing. There are some brand new compositions that are very involved and complex. It represents me playing-wise, it represents me compositionally." He's quick to add, "Don't expect things to stay where they are. The next album, I'm not sure what it will be, but it will probably be different. I like to keep things fresh. I like to move around. I don't like to put out a lot of albums that sound the same. I wanted to do a project that was clearly different in terms of lineup, in terms of aesthetic, in terms of a lot of stuff. I wanted a different album."

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