New York-born, Los Angeles-based pianist Jon Mayer began his musical career in the New York jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s. He has a long and distinguished pedigree, including work with Jackie McLean
and John Coltrane
, but his first recording as leader came as late as 1996, with Round Up The Usual Suspects
(Pullen Music). Nightscape
is Mayer's eighth album as leader and it's an engaging, beautifully performed, collection of tunes.
As with Mayer's previous albums as a leader, this is a trio recording, the pianist reprising the line-up from his last release, So Many Stars
(Reservoir Music, 2007), with drummer Roy McCurdy
and longtime collaborator/bassist Rufus Reid
. The trio comprises all exceptional musicians and their empathy is apparent throughout the album. Sound quality is excellent, with Mayer's upper register playing and McCurdy's cymbals coming across particularly clearly, although on occasions the bass, whether from Mayer's piano or Reid's upright, deserves to be higher in the mix.
Mayer has chosen an inspired combination of tunes, from the Great American Songbook, compositions of past jazz masters (such as Horace Silver's "Room 608"), and two of his own compositions"Nightscape," a delicate ballad, and "Blues Junction," a straight-ahead blues featuring a melodic solo from Reid. Taken together this selection creates a mix of the familiar and the not-so-familiar that enables the musicians to bring fresh ideas to well-established tunes as well as adding something new to the canon.
The trio's treatment of the best known composition on the album, Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz's "Dancing in the Dark," demonstrates in exemplary style how Mayer can arrange and perform a familiar tune and bring new insights and approaches to it. Mayer's interpretation offers enough variation to keep the tune fresh without losing the essence of its beautiful melody. Initially Mayer simplifies the melodyan inspired move which creates space and calm in the playingbefore he moves into a fine solo, driven by McCurdy's delicate and sympathetic brush work. Reid is also sparing with his notes, enhancing the sense of space, before he takes his own brief but effective solo.
Mayer's arrangement of Harold Land
's "Rapture" is exquisite. The tune is played at a slightly faster tempo than Land's original version, with Mayer and Reid sharing the central eight-note bass and piano theme before Mayer takes off with a genuinely lovely solo, underpinned by Reid's continuation of the opening theme and by McCurdy's inventive but never intrusive percussion. While the other tunes have their own strengths, this is the standout track to Nightscape
a delightful recording full of invention and inspiration.