Pianist Henry Hey is having a very good year. He’s already appeared on Michael Pope’s excellent The Lay of the Land, as well as Jeff “Tain” Watts’ all-star sophomore effort Bar Talk. Now Hey steps up to the plate with Watershed, his debut recording as a leader. Considering the quality of his sideman appearances, it comes as no surprise when Hey points to the bleachers and quite casually belts one out of the park.
Hey has chosen a piano trio as the format for Watershed, which is not quite so obvious a choice as it might seem. While the piano trio has a long and storied tradition, it also leaves the leader vulnerable. There is simply no place to hide in a trio setting. Every instrument is showcased. If one member of the trio has a weakness, it will stand out like a red dress at a funeral. Happily, Hey is a soloist of rare perception and imagination. He shines in this setting, creating long lines that cascade through the framework of each composition. The other members of the group, John Hebert on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums, stand on equal footing with the leader. Each plays with distinction, supporting Hey rhythmically while contributing to the performance as a whole.
Watershed also highlights Hey’s abilities as a composer. Seven out of the eight tracks were written (in one case co-written) by the pianist, and each one is fresh and distinctive. Some highlights include the electrifying “Glenmore Story” and the pensive “Laurito.” It is a pleasure to see jazz of this quality made by someone so relatively young. Hey is sure to join Xavier Davis, Brad Mehldau, and Ethan Iverson in the pantheon of exciting contemporary pianists.
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