Although his current claim to fame finds him as a member of Roy Haynes' fresh new band, pianist David Kikoski has been active on the scene since the early 80's and has recorded several times under his own name for the Triloka and Epicure labels. Making his first appearance on Criss Cross Jazz with Ralph Moore in 1987, The Maze is Kikoski's second effort as a leader for the label and it's a major statement not only in light of David's pianistic talents but also for his finely-developed writing (the program contains all original tunes).
Inner Trust was Kikoski's first set for Criss Cross and as strong a recording as it was, it suffered somewhat by a slightly detached rhythm section and a ho-hum choice of tunes. Not the case with this new outing, as the writing is much stronger and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts more than stokes the creative fires under Kikoski and tenor man Seamus Blake. Yet this is not the type of "full throttle" session that the line-up would tend to suggest. Kikoski's compositions tend to be placid and thoughtful, especially "Shame," with its cool bossa groove and "Strength for Change," a showcase for bassist Scott Colley's finely-hewn lines. In fact, an almost ECM-type demeanor pervades, albeit with a bit harder edge.
One of the most impressive cuts is the oddly-titled "Puddles of Memory," opening with Kikoski's percolating 5/4 vamp under Watts' funky backbeat, only to later drift into a relaxed 4/4 swing and then back to the vamp again. This is one where you really get to appreciate this pianist's touch, crystalline and bell- like. Blake is equally impressive throughout, a storyteller who matches his cerebral and well-developed solos with a healthy hint of old fashioned heart and soul.
The opening "Revival" also merits a mention here, it's resolute melody line supported by the frothy undercurrent of "Tain's" drums. You know, the late Paul Desmond once referred to working with Jack DeJohnette as comparable to playing with a washing machine, the amusing and benevolent comment meant to hint at the remarkable poly-rhythmic tapestry that distinguishes DeJohnette's style. Watts has developed into a player of similar caliber, his cross beats and highly-interactive comping an asset to any forward- thinking group of musicians.
Right before the end of 1999, Kikoski took a group into the studio to record his third Criss Cross affair and if it proves to be anything as substantial as The Maze, then we're in for a real treat when it gets released. In the meantime, dig the disc at hand, it rewards repeated hearings.
Revival, Puddles of Memory, Strength For Change, Disentanglement, Shame, The Maze (56:59)
David Kikoski- piano, Seamus Blake- tenor saxophone, Scott Colley- bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts- drums