Jacky Terrasson's claim that he hadn't recorded a solo-piano disc before because he "wasn't ready to take it on is mind boggling, since he has excelled at everything he's attempted: Berklee School of Music, the Monk Competition, his first pro gig as Betty Carter's pianist, and his collaborations with heavy hitters like Cassandra Wilson and Stefon Harris, to name just a few. But then, solo piano is way
different than all that; the artist is out on the wire with no backup, and if there's a safety net, it's a long way down. On Mirror
, Terrasson not only negotiates that wirehe does gymnastics on it.
Terrasson's deconstructions are like extreme close-ups of famous paintings: you are confronted with a swirl of color, or a range of indeterminate ridges, but it's not until the camera is pulled back that the Mona Lisa, or Monet's water lilies are revealed. Mirror opens in the middle of a roiling sound storm, as Terrasson summons wind that rocks you back and grit that pebbles your face; eventually, you realize the storm is a sand storm, and the piece is the Ellington classic "Caravan. A desperately mournful figure resolves itself into Carole King's "You've Got a Friend ; unlike the hopeful, supportive message that underlies the original versions by King and James Taylor, Terrasson's take comes from a place of wrenching, unbearable loss.
Sometimes Terrasson will spin a piece around or lay it on its side, or he will focus on a minor aspect of the narrative and bring it to the foreground, forcing the listener to take a new perspective. The protagonist in "Just a Gigolo is usually portrayed as a carefree bon vivant; Terrasson has him staggering down an alleyway, drunk and alone, mumbling his motto for nobody to hear. An infusion of hope displaces the resignation usually found in "Everything Happens to Me , and the dissonances and fractures in "America the Beautiful suggest that the country may be beautiful, but peaceful? Not so much.
Terrasson's originals stand up well next to the standards: "Juvenile makes you blink when Terrasson sub-references the theme from The Flintstones in the middle of a fluttering waltz; you blink again when Terrasson morphs the whisper-soft "Go Round into "Happy Birthday to You. ("It's my wife's birthday today, he says off-mic at the end of the piece). "Go Round offers extreme contrast to the snarling title track, which has extreme emotions at its base, while the soulful "Tragic Mulatto Blues could have come from the fingers of Art Tatum or Jelly Roll Morton.
After hearing the brilliance he recently created with original bandmates Ugonna Okegwo and Leon Parker, it's amazing that Terrasson would leave the trio format, even for a moment. But while a solo-piano recording may have given Terrasson pause for some thought, Mirror shows that it was a winning strategy to wait until the time was right.
Jacky Terrasson: piano.