I’ll give you full disclosure. I receive around 40 new jazz recordings a month, mostly indie projects. About 88 percent of these have something to do with the piano. I hear a lot of very good players. If I heard them at my local pub, I’d be thrilled. But most of them tread safe, established paths. I long for something new and inspired. This month I received two totally different recordings, each unique and different, that fill the bill.
The fist was from CAP and Janice Friedman. It’s a live recording from Jazz at Kitano in New York City and features the Janice Friedman Trio (Friedman on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Ed Howard on bass). The program is a mix of tried and true (“God Bless the Child,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Curacao”), underplayed standards (“Half and Half”), and original compositions (“Get Set,” “Ripplin'”). Friedman’s style varies, depending on the tune, but with enthusiasm, optimism, grace, and virtuoso chops, she nails every piece on this disc, as do her partners. She sings wonderfully well on three cuts, and her version of “God Bless the Child” is distinctive and appealing. I also liked her non vocal version of “My Man’s Gone Now,” which is very rhapsodic in her lush arrangement. The audience is enthusiastic and quite when they should be, too, and the recording is bright and chipper.
Peace in Time, from pianist Steven Feifke, is an entirely different program. The group is larger, a septet, and the textures are naturally thicker. Feifke has programmed three familiar classics – “Evidence” (Thelonious Monk), “Nica’s Dream” (Horace Silver), and “Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke) – alongside his own compositions. His style is bold, often jagged, assured, dramatic, and dynamic. Feifke’s only 23 but he tempers the undeniably attractive brashness and confidence of youth with unusual maturity. His ensemble is top notch, too, with special mention going to Benny Bernack on trumpet and Flugelhorn. His solos on “Autumn in New York” are inpisred. My only suggestion is that Feifke and his friends experiment with recording. The sound here is a bit congested at times and the string bass lines not sufficiently focused and defined. Brilliant playing like this deserves better engineering.