On this album, his second as a leader since 2012's Live at the Baked Potato, pianist/keyboardist Isamu McGregor continues to hone his approach to crafting intelligent, challenging jazz fusion. With bassist Evan Marien and drummer Gene Coye once again at his side, he's got the right partners for navigating his maze-like compositions, and guest spots by tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin and guitarist Deen Anbar also enhance the scope and stylistic diversity of the record.
One thing becomes clear from the opening track, "The Dreamer" onward: McGregor has no interest in creating anything static or monotonous. Each of these seven tracks provides plenty of twists and turns, but "The Dreamer," at over 10 minutes in length, is particularly flush with changing tempos, moods and time signatures, much as one might expect from a dream that moves in a number of different directions. If it's occasionally a bit too disjointed, it certainly never fails to sustain interest, and the precise basswork of Marien and nimble drumming of Coye hold it all together admirably.
McGregor has an equal affection for piano and synthesizer, and uses both liberally throughout the record. Creative multi-tracking allows him to layer keyboard parts on a number of the songs, which usually works successfully although it does make the music feel somewhat less spontaneous and immediate. In any event, McGregor is quite skilled as a keyboardist, and whether using elaborate synth parts or unadorned piano, he's able to articulate his ideas rather effectively. His subtle touch on piano is heard to especially strong effect on the record's lone cover, Lennon/McCartney's "Because," which McGregor plays unaccompanied. It's a lovely, classically-inflected rendition, starting out with impressive reserve, with only the faintest hints of the melody, before building to a forceful finish with authoritative chords, tremolos and descending upper-register passages.
McGregor's guests are also employed nicely. Blake's solo on "Relentless" is marvelous in ranging from winsome beauty to soaring power, and the arc of his performance is essential to the piece's overall trajectory. Maupin's bass clarinet adds mysterious ambience to "The Drifter," and Anbar's gritty guitar lends funky texture to "Thor vs. James Brown," a track that also features some terrific bass runs from Marien in addition to Anbar's incendiary solo during the last half of the cut.
With strong musicianship and thoughtful compositions, McGregor's sophomore outing has a lot to offer. It's a promising release from a keyboardist with ambition and chops to spare.
The Dreamer; Relentless; Halfway There; Because; The Drifter; Thor vs. James
Brown; The Tao of Flying.
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