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Curtis Clark: Taagi

John Sharpe By

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Recorded live on successive nights in May, 2009 in Texas, Taagi provides a welcome bulletin on under-exposed pianist Curtis Clark. Though born in Chicago, Clark first made his mark in Los Angeles back in the 1970s under the influence of the late pianist/bandleader Horace Tapscott. Since then he has resided in Amsterdam, recording with many of the mainstays of the Dutch scene, until recently relocating to New England. An appearance with trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez on A Matter Of Blood (Furthermore, 2009) was most likely the link which saw the pianist hooked up with Gonzalez's sons Aaron and Stefan for this mini-tour.

Together, they essay seven originals and one perennial from the American Songbook during the course of a low-key, 66-minute program with a late night feel. Although inspiring covers by other performers (TRIO 3 (lake/workman/cyrille) spring to mind), the pianist's compositions act more as reference points to be toyed with but not fully embraced. Clark's brightly recorded piano blends introspective romanticism and muscular gospel into a rich harmonic tide with a powerful blues undertow, while Aaron Gonzalez' incisive full-toned bass moves in understated counterpoint alongside brother Stefan's crisply supportive drums. In fact, bass and drums don't so much lead or follow Clark as keep pace on a parallel track, rarely meshing beyond tempo, pulsing freely rather than keeping time, to set up a nervy unresolved tension.

It's only on "NYC Wildlife" that piano and bass navigate the bop-ish bounce in close unison, demonstrating the intent behind their avoidance of tight harmony on other pieces. Elsewhere, a passage of locomotive rolling piano on "Suite: Joy/Blessings" opens out into three-way interplay, before leading to a churchy conclusion. Both the title track and the standard "Beautiful Love" receive classic ballad treatment, with the merest passes at the melody amid open conversational dialogue; the former featuring particularly pleasing cymbal colorations and a fine bass solo. However, it is ultimately telling that the strongest moments—such as the introductions to the two suites and "Joy"—are those where Clark ruminates alone.


Track Listing: Suite: Joy/Blessings; Suite: Water Colors/New York City Wildlife; Taagi; Joy; Blessings; Beautiful Love.

Personnel: Curtis Clark: piano; Aaron Gonzalez: bass; Stefan Gonzalez: drums.

Title: Taagi | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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