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After years of playing as an acclaimed side musician and serving as a mainstay in the Billy Harper Quintet, pianist Francesca Tanksley has finally made her debut with Journey. Joining her on this trio set are her fellow rhythm section players from Harper's quintet, bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.
All of the songs on Journey are her originals, composed over a 12-year period. The opening tune, "Into the Light," is a bright, mid-to-up-tempo tune in which Tanksley utilizes a lithe and active left hand. "Dance In the Question" opens with a short statement by Baker, then launches into shifting rhythms, a staple of her composing. Tanksley and Seay play the theme in unison as Baker takes a brief, percolating solo. "In Grace" is a beautiful ballad that features Baker with brushes at the beginning. Tanksley paints her portrait on a spare, uncluttered canvas. Seay takes an understated but eloquent solo in the middle as Baker and Tanksley build a frame around him. Her playing has some nice moments of introspection and interior dialogue.
"Trickster" opens with a drum statementand as its title implies, the song is a mischievous burner of shifting time signatures. "Simple Heart," a tender ballad, opens up with a wonderfully constructed statement by Tanksley, followed by a simultaneous piano/bass descent along the scales. On "Journey Without Distance" Tanksley plays swirling cascades of notes. After a furious, passionate turn - arguably her most stirring playing on the disc - Seay elbows his way to the fore and delivers a sprightly solo as Baker whispers behind him. The closer, "Never Defeated," finds Tanksley weaving more of her rapid-fire keyboard embroidery to Seay and Baker’s ample support.
Tanksley is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner in terms of style and execution. While her left hand holds the fort, the right goes off on studied but elegant flights. The meshing of the trio is almost telepathic at times. Clearly, the trio's shared tenure with Harper's group has had an effect on Tanksley's composing; they know each other's moves, so to speak, and that empathy has been factored into her songs. After this strong debut, as well as her recent performance as part of the Lost Jazz Shrines series at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, we can only hope that Ms. Tanksley doesn't wait as long next time to give us more great music.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.