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It must indeed be a lucky thing to be Taylor Eigsti, a 21-year-old pianist who has already been performing for over a decade. After a handful of independent discs comes his Concord debut, Lucky to Be Me, a collection of originals, standards and unexpected interpretations featuring bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash and guitarist Julian Lage.
From the very top, his reharmonized arrangement of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" bears all the indications of a mature talent with an adventurous spirit. The cohesiveness of the assembled musicians is instantly apparent as they blow through the "new" changes with frenetic grace.
Eigsti also contributes three originals. "Get Your Hopes Up" is a breezy up-tempo tune with a strong Latin inflection and an alternating two chord major/minor vamp that allows the pianist to stretch out. "Argument" is aptly titled and fitfully executed with bassist James Genus and drummer Billy Kilson. Although the hyperactive syncopation and licks-per-minute rate is fairly high, the Fender Rhodes solo offers a nice contrast to the otherwise difficult ensemble workout. The lightness of his touch certainly counterbalances the gravity of his phrasing throughout the disc, and his third composition, "Adventure One," takes his technical abilities to expressive heights. McBride's bass solo is a highlight.
"Love for Sale" and the curious "Woke Up This Morning" (the theme from The Sopranos) are spirited and fun, the latter featuring a small horn ensemble that contributes beefy punctuation to the subtle, funky groove. Björk's "I've Seen It All" also features horns in a dark and rich rendering. Eigsti's impressionistic version of "Darn That Dream" and the title track show that he has a great capacity for restraint and lyricism. "Freedom Jazz Dance" is rancorous and lively with inventive solo lines and seamless interplay between the musicians. Drummer Billy Kilson delivers an exciting, propulsive solo.
Both rhythm sections on this album sound relaxed and comfortable, and the addition of guitarist Julian Lage offers a pleasing extension of Eigsti's natural affinity for strong melody. The choice of material and tight arrangements make me look forward to future releases by this young talent. Although not an earth-shattering opus, Lucky to Be Me is nonetheless a worthy endeavor that should attract listeners who are curious about a new voice in jazz with something original to say. We'll keep listening.
Track Listing: Giant Steps; Get Your Hopes Up; Love For Sale; I've Seen It All; Argument; True Colors; Woke
Up This Morning; Promenade; Adventure One; Darn That Dream; Freedom Jazz Dance; Lucky
To Be Me.
Personnel: Taylor Eigsti: piano; Christian McBride, James Genus: bass; Lewis Nash, Billy Kilson: drums;
Julian Lage: guitar; Greg Adams: trumpet; Eric Marienthal: alto saxophone; Adam Schroeder:
baritone sax; Garrett Smith: trombone; Brian Swartz: trumpet; Ben Wendel: tenor sax.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.