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David Chesky Releases "Jazz in the New Harmonic" (Chesky Records)


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David Chesky
David Chesky’s Jazz in the New Harmonic (Chesky Records) puts the acclaimed pianist and composer’s own personal twist on bridging the disparate worlds of jazz and classical. The music has its roots in Third Stream, the hybrid term coined in 1957 by Gunther Schuller to identify a new emerging musical sensibility that was essentially a confluence of classical music and jazz, with improvisation being a vital component. Since then, composers like John LaPorta, John Lewis, Stan Kenton, George Russell and Schuller himself dabbled in Third Stream while more contemporary composers such as Henry Threadgill, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, John Zorn, Ohad Talmor and Joel Harrison have put forth their own ambitious chamber jazz projects.

But Jazz in the New Harmonic is more than a Third Stream project in the strictly Schullerian sense of the word: Chesky’s recording is a striking manifesto that deals with dissonance and rhythm on equal footing. “I wanted to take the harmonic language of 21st century classical music and make it groove,” he says of his bold new direction in jazz. “The ideal for me was to create an absolutely new concept of composition in which the jazz and classical would be so blended that you would not be able to identify the jazz roots from the classical roots.”

Fueled by the cool, simmering rhythm tandem hookup between jazz veterans Peter Washington on bass and Billy Drummond on drums and colored by Chesky’s provocative comping, Jazz in the New Harmonic is further characterized by the searching spirit of principal soloists Javon Jackson on tenor saxophone and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. “With Peter and Billy holding it down, I can do the painting above it with my harmonic language, which is coming from the Messiaen, Webern and Ivesschool,” Chesky explains. “So I’m giving Javon and Jeremy chords that they don’t usually hear in jazz. This is not C major or C minor of some dominant raised sharp nine chord. It’s a new vocabulary and it’s forcing them to adapt and come up with it.”

And both Jackson and Pelt deliver the goods with solos that are probing and profound. Whether it’s their agile interaction with tenor and muted trumpet on the moody, mid tempo swinging title track, their bold, unbridled blowing on the dark Bitches Brew/In a Silent Way-inspired “Broadway” or their potent playing on the dirge-like “American Culture X,” their musical choices are always unpredictable and in the moment. Pelt, one of the leading lights on the under-40 jazz scene today, also contributes an outstanding blues-tinged muted trumpet solo on “Burnout.” Jackson, the former Jazz Messenger, takes his time in formulating an answer to Pelt’s solo on that sinister offering. Bassist Washington’s deep, woody-toned ostinatos solidly anchor the proceedings. His catchy “The Beat Goes On” riff propels the title track while his repetitive motif on “Broadway” recalls moody Miles Davis vehicles like “Spanish Key” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” from Bitches Brew or the atmospheric “Shhh/Peaceful” from In a Silent Way.

Washington also breaks loose for extended upright solos on the aptly titled “Grooves from the Underground” and “Burnout” that reveal his dexterity and ingenuity on the instrument. Drummond deftly crafts a different approach on the kit to perfectly underscore the vibe of each piece, whether it’s his subdued funky drummer take on “American Culture X,” his insistently swinging syncopations on the noir-ish “Duke’s Groove,” his vaguely Latin-flavored beat on “Transcendental Tripping” or his patient, understated and unerring time-keeping on the laid back dub flavored jam “Grooves from the Underground” and the ominous jam “Burnout.”

Drummond is also prominently featured throughout the infectious “Deconstruction,” which culminates in a dramatic, unaccompanied drum showcase. “Billy and Peter are the ultimate groove masters,” says Chesky. “They’ve got such a great feel together and they lay this carpet down for Javon and Jeremy to do their thing. Both Javon and Jeremy play with incredible soul. When you hear them play, there’s an indescribable feeling to it. They organically play jazz. It’s not something they learned, it’s who they are.”

Beneath it all, in almost subliminal fashion, is Chesky, deliberately feeding his crew darkly dissonant chord voicings with a crystalline touch on the keys, subtly tweaking the proceedings along the way with his startling vocabulary. “We had some rehearsals with Jeremy and Javon and myself, just to get comfortable with the harmonic language,” he recalls. “And it’s not really dissonant to me at all. When I play that way, to me it sounds like I’m playing ‘The Candy Man’ or some kids’ song. I’m so used to it that it just sounds normal to me. It’s a nice color in my palette and I like it.” Throughout Jazz in the New Harmonic, Chesky takes a decidedly sparse, mysterioso approach to his piano solos, though he does open up and stretch in his own enigmatic fashion on “Burnout” and “Transcendental Tripping.”

As he explains, “The music is about space so I’m not really looking to play 90 miles an hour. This is not about chops. When I do my solos, they’re all constructed on large, dissonant intervals. There’s no real blowing over chords or the normal blues type blowing in patterns. It’s almost like instant composition, like doing a modern piano sonata in the moment.” Full of provocative ideas, imbued with soulful expression and charged with the spirit of anticipation, Jazz in the New Harmonic is a portent of things to come from this accomplished composer and sonic provocateur.

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