When he became music director for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band in 1990, pianist Christian Jacob was just taking the next logical step on his musical journey. The 40-year-old pianist was born in Lorraine, France and studied classical piano. His first introduction to jazz came through the jazz "tinge" contained in music by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and later, through recordings by Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson. After moving to the U.S. in 1982, Jacob graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and then toured with vibraphonist Gary Burton for several years before linking up with Ferguson.
The pianist has a busy left hand that fills his performances with a constant percussive motion. Half the compositions on Time Lines are Jacob’s compositions, and all are his arrangements. With the capable support of a veteran bassist and drummer, Jacob varies the session with standards, dramatic originals, and lush scenery. But can he play the blues? The album ends with Mercer Ellington’s "Things Ain’t What They Used To Be" at a moderate blues tempo. Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum lay down the requisite walking bass line and swinging ride cymbal backdrop. The pianist takes charge, tosses out two bars of the blues, and then proceeds to fill every available space in the arrangement with excitement. However, there’s no letup. Jacob forgets to breathe. The piano fills every nook and cranny with percussive keyboard strokes.
Jacob’s lively arrangement of "In a Mellotone" gives the classic piece a unique texture, with quirky twists and turns. Swallow takes a solo here and elsewhere to contrast with the pianist’s hive of activity. "Guess Again" features Nussbaum in another lively affair. The samba-esque "Cumulonimbus" and the effusive "There Is No Greater Love" provide more drama and excitement. "Innocence" and "Days of Yore," with their consonant harmonies and soothing rhythms, provide an easy-listening, adult-contemporary respite, with light-hearted images that reflect their titles. One is dreamy and gentle, while the other spins repetitive, like spending a lazy afternoon looking back at the good old days. Ballads "I’m Old Fashioned" and "All That Remains" lead to a traditional heartfelt rendering of "America the Beautiful." Christian Jacob balances his session with the old and the new, the dramatic and the peaceful. He’s a pianist with a lot to say, and the chops to say it effectively. Recommended.