In this fascinating 2009 release, leader Denman Maroney morphs the avant-garde implications of hyperpiano fare into a semi-structured progressive jazz endeavor with tunes that are largely melodic and uncannily attainable. The artist derives influence from avant-garde composers John Cage and Henry Cowell, who used nuts, bolts and other implements to perform on the piano via unconventional methodologies.
Maroney finds ways to exploit the piano's mechanics by bowing, plucking and sliding on the strings with bowls, knives and other miscellany. His bizarre sounds intersect the jazz element without any clashes or train wrecks. Nonetheless, Maroney is a modernist who often straddles the free-form improvisational schema with many of the jazz world's finest instrumentalists.
The quintet executes an odd-metered jazz-funk motif during the opening "Udentity I," showing that the band aims to maintain an angular discourse amid subtle deviations and surprises along the way. Consequently, the musicians spawn a frothy sequence of movements, complete with winding themes and reverse engineering ventures. That factor is a pattern throughout, as Maroney slips, slides and intersects among the soloists' exchanges and solo spots, while bassist Reuben Radding generates the pliant undercurrent.
Maroney is a cunning stylist and a strong composer within the progressive jazz idiom. "Udentity II" has a close relationship with John Coltrane's classic "Blue Train" via a similar melody line, although the ensemble veers it off into a free-jazz meltdown, enhanced by Maroney's slithery piano-string manipulations. Elsewhere, the pianist renders whirlwind interludes with his swirling chord progressions while projecting a rather illusionary mindset.
A few passages are built on dainty themes and unorthodox frameworks, in concert with trumpeter Dave Ballou and multi-reedman Ned Rothenberg's yearning lines. This facet works wonders on "Udentity V," as Maroney presents an off-kilter and fragmented muse to traditional jazz, nicely accented by Michael Sarin's syncopated drum solo.
This is a formidable and rather enterprising slant on avant-jazz. Maroney merges the best of many musical worlds by seamlessly cross-referencing solid compositional platforms with improvisation and out-of-this-world hyperpiano articulations. It's a masterful album, abetted by the leader's ubiquitous implementations and forward-thinking impetus.