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Pianist Kurt Ellenberger has turned in a dandy here! With a nod to the Bill Evans’ school of piano or perhaps similar in “presentation” to some of Steve Kuhn’s recent work for ECM, comparisons or analogies do not allude to any sense of derivation........... Beautifully recorded at the Lawrence University Chapel in Appleton Wisconsin, Ellenberger and his super fine rhythm section induce or perhaps capture the aura of a morning sunrise on a gorgeous spring day somewhere in paradise. Songs From The Far West is a first class effort which is quite evident upon the opening piece titled, “Larkspur In Aspen”. Here, Ellenberger employs gobs of lovely harmonics, lush melodies and poignant phrasing as he brandishes a distinctive voice which, becomes apparent within minutes or perhaps seconds into the recording. The sympathetic if not keenly intuitive rhythm section consisting of bassist David Dunn and drummer Dane Richeson propel Ellenberger as he executes swirling clusters, lyrically rich thematic statements along with his deeply personalized and somewhat combustible attack. Throughout, this Trio perform as tight and cohesive as any working piano trio out there which includes the infamous Keith Jarrett and his superstar rhythm section. Ellenberger is a painter of unimaginable places! The compositions are meaningful, tightly coordinated yet maintain a loose if not relaxed feel.
They generate some heat on “Herr Mann’s Fell’d” as Ellenberger implements a few classical-style yet harmonically inclined chord progressions and climactic melodic development as the rhythm section shift meter, counterbalance the tonalities and provide upbeat “swing” grooves. On “Internal Presence”, Ellenberger is somewhat pensive yet always finds a bright side without becoming overly morose or austere. With “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, the trio swing through rich harmonies as Ellenberger remains intently focused upon thematic development yet displays his ingenuity as a lead soloist through well conceived single note leads intermingled with rapid left – right hand voicings. Many of these pieces unfold in a dramatic sense. The trio have a blast with tempi while frequently altering a motif or injecting brief solos, which often conforms to the guts of the composition. The closer, “Far West” is a hybrid swing, ballad – a mover and a shaker featuring prominent themes and memorable melodies as Ellenberger is a master of “manipulating” or toying with melody.
Songs From The Far West is a superb outing as accolades and praise should not stand as a substitute for the thoroughly enjoyable if not mesmerizing listening experience. This one is guaranteed to reside on the top shelf when or if you decide to remove it from your CD player. One of the major surprises of 1999........ Recommended to all! * * * * *