Jazz is like the Constitutiona living thing that evolves with the times. If that weren't true, every player would sound like Louis Armstrong. And while there are more than a few people who would be good with that, obsessively repeating and archiving past triumphs only serves to preserve this music. To keep the genre alive and on any kind of growth curve, it needs continual infusions of new blood and fresh ideas.
This is the up side of Frank LoCrasto's debut, When You're There. A graduate of New York's New School, LoCrasto is a Presidential Scholar of the Arts and a past winner of the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Award. The 23-year old Texas native has played piano for Joe Lovano, Greg Osby and Chris Cheek, among other notables. (Cheek returns the favor here, contributing evocative work on tenor and soprano sax.)
So LoCrasto is not a newbie, by any means. He had enough of a resume to get signed to MaxJazz, and he's brought his own ideas to the table here: except for a collaboration with vocalist Becca Stevens on the ballet-like meditation "Gathered Impression, everything on When You're There comes entirely from LoCrasto's pen. For me, this recording is all about composition. The driving "New Beginnings, the mournful ballad "Troubling Differences and the opening bossa "Until Dusk show LoCrasto has loads of potential as a writer and arranger, and he's not afraid to go outside the box.
Here's the down side: It's not clear whether LoCrasto wants to be Bill Evans or Gil Evans. He combines a romantic playing style with a background sense that borders on the classical, brocading the disc with instrumental combinations that might seem like good ideas, but only complicate matters at the end of the day. On the suite "Overture/The Rathskellar/Interlude, the third movement begins with a bassoon solo by Alden Barta. My immediate reaction was, "What am I listening to? Peter and the Wolf? By seemingly trying to prove how smart he isLoCrasto uses a quote from Aldous Huxley as the disc's mission statementhe frequently outsmarts himself.
While LoCrasto's support playing is quite fine, his solo skills are at best rudimentary, and overreaching kills him here, too; again, ideas that start out as valid concepts tend to either peter out or fall flat, leaving the listener unfulfilled. Also, his soloists also seem too restrained, seemingly unwilling to outshine their leader. This wastes some exceptional foundation work by bassist Ben Street and drummer Tommy Crane. Instead of chasing either Evans, LoCrasto should take a cue from Blakey, who wasn't afraid to let his players have the spotlight.
When You're There is a worthy first effort from an artist who's out to put his own mark on this genre. While that's both laudable and exciting, Frank LoCrasto needs to learn that complex music isn't always interesting music, and keeping it simple isn't necessarily stupid.
Until Dusk; Jaded Brotherhood; Jordan; Overture/The Rathskellar/Interlude; The Metaphysics of Self-Deception; New Beginnings; Troubling Differences; Gathered Impression; Going Home.
Frank LoCrasto: piano, glockenspiel; Chris Cheek: tenor sax, soprano sax; Mike Moreno: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Ben Street: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Richard Boukas: acoustic guitar (1); Becca Stevens: vocals (8); Kelly Watson: flute, alto flute; Ben Kono: oboe, English horn; Jeremy Viner: clarinet; Alden Banta: bassoon; Cornelius Dufalo: violin; Zach Brock: violin; Nicole Federici: viola; Chris Hoffman: cello; Daniel Barnage: conductor.