One of the intriguing things about pianist Marc Copland is that he started out playing the saxophone and was enjoying a successful career on that instrument, including a stint with the Chico Hamilton Quintet and an album with guitarist John Abercrombie, when he decided to switch gears and take up the piano. And after several years of full-time study (and a name change), he was able to establish himself as one of the more exciting, innovative, and technically adept pianists on the New York scene.
On his new album on Savoy Jazz, Copland's excellent trio (with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Bill Stewart) is joined by two superstar saxophonists, Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano, as well as up-and-coming trumpeter Tim Hagans. Copland and friends pair up in a variety of trio, quartet, and quintet settings on an interesting selection of mostly standards plus three fine Copland originals.
Copland's exceptionally fluid playing is marked by subtlety, economy, and an unusually sensitive touch. He shines on trio versions of "My Foolish Heart" and two Cole Porter tunes, "I Love You" and "So in Love." The album opens with an oddly metered, faster than usual take on Oscar Hammerstein's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," featuring impressive work from tenor giant Lovano on a song associated (at least in this writer’s mind) with John Coltrane.
Refreshingly, Copland also looks to the contemporary (well, at least the 1970s) pop world for material, although with mixed results. Joni Mitchell's "Blue" is presented in a moody, somewhat meandering version that never quite takes off. The slow funk take on Marvin Gaye's soul classic "What's Going On" is more successful, with a solid groove put down by the rhythm section and some nice turns from Brecker.