Jazz musicians often struggle with the notion of attracting a wide audience without having to sacrifice their creative vision. Pittsburgh pianist Rick Gallagher seems to have figured out a way to produce original jazz with an accessible appeal that maintains artistic integrity. Sugar Shack
, Gallagher's fifth solo release, is an inventive, swinging piano trio collection featuring bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Thomas Wendt. Percussionist George Jones joins in on a couple of tracks.
Gallagher is a confident pianist with the perfect blend of technique and finesse. With a mature approach to soloing, he develops his ideas with persistent clarity, emphasizing feeling over flash.
Gallagher's compositions traverse a variety of stylistic samplings. Through ballads, Latin grooves and swingers, the focus is on strong melodic content. The Oscar Peterson-influenced "One Juicy Apple and the cascading ballad "Everything About Her stand out as exceptional.
Cover versions of Lennon and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby and 1980s pop anthem "Everybody Wants to Rule the World, by Tears for Fears, are creatively restructured, blending in nicely to the disc's overall flow.
Gallagher's trio mates display adept professionalism, adapting effortlessly to the disc's stylistic twists and turns. With ample solo space, Thompson demonstrates a lyrical, buoyant bass style, most notably on the lush ballad "Cade's Lullaby. Wendt is a rock-solid drummer who knows how to listen effectively. His crisp cymbal work on "Prayer, a lively waltz, is at once supportive and enticing. Jones adds a funky dose of percussion to "When Morning Comes, a soulful bossa-nova, and "Thick & Skinny, a greasy boogaloo.
As multi-layered as the music on Sugar Shack is, each piece exhibits a common thread of collaborative spirit, void of pretense. Gallagher and company are quite content at performing high quality jazz that is fundamentally joyous and swinging.