The basement is a rich metaphor, with all sorts of literary and emotional connotations. In pianist Steve Denny's case, it represents a place for gestation and growth, a lair in which to hunker down and do one's work. Denny was born and raised in Denver, studied music at Loyola University in Chicago where he graduated summa cum laude
, and then earned a master's at University of North Colorado. Along the way he studied with legendary pianist Art Lande
and met many musical compatriots, including bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Ben Waters
. Denny, Kenney, and Waters eventually formed a trio with unofficial headquarters in the Denny family basement, and their wood-shedding has resulted in a highly enjoyable debut CD, aptly named Life in the Basement.
From the first tune, the wry and sprightly "Life in the Basement," it's immediately apparent that these are top-notch players with a cohesive sound. But as the CD unfolds, it becomes clear that Denny is quite a gifted composer. The nine songs are all Denny originals, and five of them are musical portraits, displaying Denny's aptitude for drawing people with sound. One example is the gorgeous "Finn's Sick," where Denny depicts his usually buoyant nephew huddled in his mother's lap with the flu. The melody is elegant and sad, and displays the rare ability to capture the pure intensity of a child's emotions, reminiscent of pianist Vince Guaraldi
's timeless work with the Charlie Brown series. This quality is also evident in "Robot Parts," a song Denny wrote for his niece Lelah. The sweet, open melody perfectly depicts a little girl's animated spirit and the magical enthusiasm unique to childhood.
Denny does just as well with adults: "Dark Waters," which was written for his drummer, is a portrayal of heaving emotions and internal change. Another portrait is "Stacie," a delightful tune not hampered by the fact that Stacie is imaginary. Denny is an artist who thrives on challenge, and this time the experiment was to write in the key of A, as well as to write about someone who doesn't exist. Denny states in the liner notes, "We like to envision her as a well-intentioned jazz fan who sits too close and claps out of time." And sure enough as the song progresses, the imaginary Stacie comes to life, full of cheer and off-kilter charm.
Altogether, Life in the Basement
is an impressive debut that announces the arrival of three talented musicians, as well as a gifted songwriter who has something special to offer. With any luck they'll reemerge from the basement soon, and share more of their excellent music.