Playing jazz can be like driving a car. Sometimes you can sit back, rely on cruise control, and simply revel in a straightforward journey, but more precise maneuvering is often required. Lightning quick reflexes, an ability to comfortably navigate hairpin turns, and a strong directional sense are equally important, and pianist Alon Nechushtan exhibits all of these traits from behind the driver's seat on Words Beyond.
The left-leaning klezmer jazz that Nechushtan delivered with his Talat band mates on Growl (Tzadik, 2006) is nowhere to be found here. Instead, Nechushtan relies on an aesthetic that leans heavily on shifts in the rhythmic sands of time and complex, two (or three) way conversations. Hearing how drummer extraordinaire Dan Weiss solos over a playful, broken bass presence on "Muppet Shock" or soaking in the piano-bass dialog on "Different Kind Of Morning," demonstrates that this is high-level communication of the highest order.
Nechushtan couldn't have asked for more empathetic and appropriate colleagues, in terms of creating a fluid and flexible trio environment that's heavy on rhythmic interaction, than Weiss and bassist Francois Moutin. Weiss' rhythmic mastery, which covers everything from Indian music to modern jazz, and has been at the heart of some of saxophonist David Binney's groundbreaking recordings, is always at the center of these pieces. Moutin can provide walking bass lines on the few, brief occasions that they're called for, but his ability to serve as the go-between for Weiss and Nechushtan is a greater asset. He emphasizes choppy accents with the pianist ("The Traveler") and the drummer ("Muppet Shock"), and cleverly navigates his way through a piece that moves from wonderfully discombobulated soul to sunny environs to menacing, avant-ballroom music and beyond ("Spinning The Clouds"). As a soloist, Moutin is also the standout musician on the album. His blinding speed and supple movements help to create first rate feature spots that enhance every track where he's given room to do his work.
As the man pulling the strings, Nechushtan is never short on ideas for his compositions, or in performance. He can comfortably erect a harmonic edifice around a single note ("Different Kind Of Morning"), deliver straightforward soloing over driving swing ("Dr. Master Plan') and go it alone if his band mates drop out mid-track ("Spinning The Clouds"). While he prefers complex angles to straightaways, the music never strays into inaccessible territory, as he clearly prefers taking people along for a ride to driving solo. Alon Nechushtan's Words Beyond is worlds beyond where most jazz musicians are willing and able to travel, making this album a worthwhile listening journey.
Muppet Shock; Different Kind Of Morning; Spinning The Clouds; Dr. Master Plan; Spring Soul Song; Secret Short/Short Secret; Entranced; Heartbreakthrough; The Traveler.
Alon Nechushtan: piano; Francois Moutin: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.
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