In mid-April KBCS Jazz Program Director Gordon Todd, on his Thursday morning Drive Time Jazz show, interviewed local pianist and composer Victor Noriega. Todd praised Noriega’s all-original, debut recording, Stone’s Throw, and acknowledged him and his trio mates, Will Blair (double-bass) and Eric Eagle (drums), as part of a new, up-and-coming crop of local jazz musicians. A week earlier, I had heard Noriega’s CD and liked it at first listen—a rare occurrence. Discovering a local DJ who shares my taste in music seemed rarer still.
As a point of reference, Stone’s Throw is reminiscent of another CD in rotation on KBCS, Brad Mehldau’s latest, Anything Goes. Like Mehldau, Noriega draws inspiration from various musical styles. His playing is adventurous and without pretension. Loud and clear is the sound of his trio having fun on this recording. Aren’t those the best kind of ego-less jams?
The curious attraction of “Endgame” is an up-and-down chromatic run in the melody, like an etude set free from its classical confines and played fancifully in choppy syncopation. Given room to bloom, intellectual head-music resolves into soulful heart-music, anchored by Eagle’s galloping swing and Blair’s steady, big bass sound.
The title track is a lyric gem that spotlights Noriega’s compositional and improvisational strengths. Part left-hand vamp-groove, part right-hand melodic finger-painting, “Stone’s Throw” rides a current of improvisational lines that steadily build into a climactic crash of chords and cymbals.
“Recognition,” Noriega’s take on the jazzman’s black hole, is rhythmically up-beat and harmonically infectious. Like Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” a sense of motion and amazement is paramount. Close your eyes and imagine driving a Pacific coast road brimming with breathtaking vistas at every turn. Perhaps the greatest recognition comes not from cash or critics or crowds, but from the artist with a song in his heart.
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