Pianist and composer Becky Archibald's sixth release as a leader, Midnight at Monteton is a diverse collection of highly polished originals with catchy harmonic hooks. Recorded over a span of three years, Archibald is heard mostly with a variety of her regular collaborators creating a relaxed amicable mood that permeates the entire album.
The tracks range from the intimate and nocturnesque to the Latin flavored to those that sway with a soulful swagger. Her shimmering piano together with drummer Gene Markiewicz's whispering brushes and bassist Jack Helsley's tiptoeing pizzicato notes set the mood on the crepuscular "Lullaby." Saxophonist Jim Farrelly's lilting, yearning alto enters stating the main motif, out of which Archibald's intense, darkly hued piano flows like rivulets around the smooth and rock steady bass and drum vamps. Helsley's intricate and lyrical solo brings Levantine mysticism to the proceedings.
Not all of the songs allow as much room for individual expression as they rely more on an ensemble sound creating a certain ambience. The simmering "Bullet Proof Blues," for instance, is an old fashioned swinger with the frontline trading bars with the piano led rhythm section. Out of the, funk laced, elegant melody emerge the rich tones of trumpeter P.J. Yinger's muted horn as he briefly and effectively embellishes the tune. Archibald's equally short and stimulating percussive chimes, guitarist Sandy Williams' blistering strings and bassist Fred Withrow complex, walking line follow in quick succession adding to the overall exuberant feel.
A palpable romanticism is apparent on the atmospheric Bossa Nova "If You Only Knew." Percussionist Kevin Kaiser's gentle and refined beats together with Archibald's cascading keys and bassist Dave Murray's smooth electric reverberations create an effervescent mood. Over this sparkling sonance Farrelly's ethereal flute floats in a succinct but evocative improvisation.
Lastly, as the title suggests, her stay in France was the source of inspiration for much of this work. This is most apparent on the inventive "Deux Chappeaux." Reedman Mark Ortwein's earthy, cool bass clarinet spars with Farrelly's whimsical sax over Archibald's sparse and thick chords and electric bassist Steve Dokken's muscular thrums.
The midnight blue colored "No Walk in the Park" is one of the three unaccompanied piano pieces that close the record. The contemplative extemporization alternates between a stormy air and a quieter demeanor. It showcases both Archibald's western classical training and her superlative instrumentalism.
Although it lacks an innovative spontaneity and a thematic unity this charming and engaging album, nevertheless delights in its variety and its mellifluous phrasing. Archibald definitely knows how to distill assorted influences into alluring and graceful music
Deux Chapeaux; Once Is Not Enough; Can’t Let It Go; Lullaby; One-O-Four;
Lemonade; If You Only Knew; Midnight At Monteton; Le Tour De Jack; And
Then There Were Two; Bullet Proof Blues; Never Alone; Still Something To
Say; No Walk In The Park; Anniversary Waltz.
Becky Archibald: piano; Mark Ortwein: bass clarinet; Jim Farrell:
saxophones; P.J. Yinger: trumpet; Sandy Williams: guitar; Steve Dokken:
electric bass; Dave Murray: fretless bass; Fred Withrow, Jack Helsley:
acoustic bass; Gene Markiewicz: drums; Kevin Kalser: percussion.
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