If Looking for an Exit
proves anything (aside from the fact that pianist Simona Premazzi is a force to be reckoned with), it's that a good education goes a long way.
When Premazzi wasn't playing in the Mingus septet at Milano's acclaimed Jazz School Academy, the northern Italy native was backing up stalwarts like Dave Leibman, Enrico Rava, and James Newton. She relocated to New York in 2004, but her education continued: While establishing herself on the club circuit, Premazzi studied with Fred Hersch, Jason Moran, and Jean-Michel Pilc. The latter instructor is most important, because Pilc's drummer Ari Hoenigwhose Inversations (Dreyfus Jazz, 2007) benefited from Pilc's outside-the-box playingis the turbocharger that makes Exit fly.
While aggression fuels Premazzi's overall attack, she throws enough twists and turns into her music to make the listener expect anything and assume nothing. The opener "Smokersion teaches this lesson right off the bat. Premazzi comes out smoking herself, lying down a forceful, insistent riff worthy of McCoy Tyner. But with one flick of her fingers, she drops the listener into a soft, beautiful space, far removed from the craziness of the opening salvo. Don't get used to it, because Premazzi flings the tune back into the tumult after a few brief moments. "Smokersion resolves into breakneck swing driven by Hoenig's volcanic drums and Joe Sanders' pulsing bass, but be prepared for the side trip into a whirling waltz that both unnerves and delights.
Hoenig must love uncompromising piano players, because he rises eagerly to the challenge of Premazzi's intense material. His injections of energy on the stirring "Four O'Clock helps elevate the Premazzi original to a great height, and his abrupt explosive fills on "Prayer for Robert slap exclamation points on Premazzi's swinging sound. Sanders isn't content to simply lay the foundation on Exit: His resonant in-the-clear solo on "Ale's Dog starts a chain reaction that results in a wonderfully unpredictable composition, and his counter-solo on "Junkie Paper Dragon adds to the tune's electric texture.
Premazzi applies her free-wheeling style to originals and standards. She teams with Hoenig on a first-class deconstruction of the Gershwins' "But Not for Me ; the original melody is never completely abandoned, but the wistfulness of the lyric is savagely replaced by a protagonist who rejoices in rebellion against all things sappy. Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves has a Latin undertone that feels both uncharacteristic and appropriate at the same time, and Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things comes at you from all directions, as if all three players are attacking you at once.
Thanks to exciting releases by Bill Charlap, Steve Kuhn and Jackson Harrison, it's already been a banner year for piano-trio discs. Looking for an Exit stands proudly next to these offerings, as well it should. Simona Premazzi is a shining product of an outstanding education; she should have no trouble negotiating jazz' School of Hard Knocks.