Music For Bowlers
Born and raised in the US State of Arizona, Jacob Koller is a pianist and composer
sporting a CV that's already varied and interesting, Koller having collaborated
- on stage and in the studio - with quite a few musicians, among them Mark
Dresser and Terence Blanchard. Recorded in a classic "piano/double
bass/drums" configuration (the other instruments here being
played, respectively, by Chris Finet and Corey Fogel, who are technically
quite skilled, have a vivacious and versatile approach, and also possess
a respectable résumé), Music For Bowlers is Koller's first album as the leader of this trio.
But what kind of pianist and composer is Koller? Well, here I have to say that
in my opinion the press release I got with the CD, presenting the line-up
as a "High-Energy Jazz Piano Trio", does a disservice to both
the CD and Koller's music, which are decidedly more various and interesting
than this narrow definition could lead one to believe; though I think I
can easily guess the reason why a sentence like this was seen as
"doing the job".
Here I could mention names like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Davis, and Marilyn Crispell,
and talk about what is - or isn't -
"jazz". But if we talk about Music For Bowlers, it's apparent that the composer's
palette is quite varied. For instance, if it's Paul Bley's presence that
seems to inhabit the mood of Hidarite, and also the theme to Ice Fishing,
elsewhere (in some knotty left hand ostinatos, or in a composition like Inconvenient
Coincidence) what becomes apparent is a lesson learned, I think, from Conlon
Nancarrow. I have also to stress the presence of quite a few "repetitive" sections
on this album.
Koller's attack on the piano keyboard shows a long-standing familiarity
with classical music. And maybe it's from there that he gets his predilection
for contrasting sections. There are also many moments where left/right
hand independence is of absolute importance, both hands busy playing complex
rhythmic counterpoints which - in my opinion - are quite unusual for a
"jazz trio", as it's regularly thought of. (Kudos to Michael Krassner,
who produced and mixed the album, assisted by engineer Otto D'Agnolo. Space
placement and different timbral characteristics of both hands are of great help in
making one properly follow
this music with the right amount of pleasure.)
The album starts with a double bass ostinato, then we have a repeating
piano phrase, played at the bottom of the keyboard; it's
at this point that the drummer starts playing a series of cymbal hits that,
"filled" with notes, become the right hand piano part; just as one has gotten accustomed
to this, the drummer starts "opening" on the drums, with the piano
to follow; as a closing gesture, a frenetic rhythmic unison of the
high end of the keyboard and a very resonating snare drum. Total duration: 2'30".
At just a hair below 40', the album is perfect. The whole is dense, but not
claustrophobic. It also possesses a nice, logical progression.
After the opening track discussed above, Knit To Own, we have Nello: first
we have the double bass, then the drums, and the left hand on the piano;
a quite airy-sounding passage from the right hand, then a rhythmic "tutti" that
for just a second reminded me of (Belgian group) Univers Zero. Nice orchestral
close by drums and percussion at the end of the piece.
The already mentioned Hidarite has some classic
"piano ballad" moves, with beautiful nuances, and more than a bit
of Paul Bley; also a succinct bass part, and percussion that are not what one would
expect from a "piano ballad".
At a bit above 10', Gig For Gag (a play on words for Tit For Tat?) is the only
long track on the album. It opens with a left hand ostinato, then double
bass and drums, then theme. The composition has iterative figures and counterpoint, with "rhythm-section-only" interludes, then it goes to trills in
the top end of the keyboard. At about 5' tempo stops on carillon-like trills.
The brief and (maybe) Nancarrow-related Inconvenient Coincidence is the only
track that left me a bit cold. I liked more the (briefer still) track that
follows, New Goods.
With a development that's varied but logic, Quing has a nice iterative figure,
then a gradual, quite communicative, acceleration by the trio, with knotty
phrasing from the right hand. Starting from about 3'30" we have an "oriental" scale,
with the double bass played arco, and something that reminded me of a koto/zither
Sounding relatively orthodox, the closing track,
Ice Fishing, has a nice theme which sounds like something halfway between
Duke Ellington and Paul Bley. Drums played with brushes, and a compressed-sounding (maybe a bit too much compression?) double bass.
In closing, this album is suggested listening; especially so, I'd say, for
those musicians who - though technically skilled - seem to lack a clear
vision of the composed whole.
© Beppe Colli 2008
CloudsandClocks.net | Feb. 27, 2008