CLOSING THE CIRCLE / STRAUSS: Closing the Circle. Morning Glory. For Andrea. Bad Harzburg. Doing It.+ Serenity. Off to Berlin. Nicht so laut. Song for Amy.* + Tears of Joy.+ Neve Tzedik / Arik Strauss, pno; Jonathan Robinson, bs; Andrea Marcelli, dm; *Joe Kucera, s-sax; +Sigal Adler Strauss, voc / private issue, no number
Veteran jazz pianist Arik Strauss, who recently relocated from Israel to Germany, presents here 11 tracks of relatively mainstream jazz with his trio. This is Strauss’ eighth album as a leader.
For many modern jazz listeners, the term “mainstream” has almost become a code word for simpler, less imaginative jazz, but in Strauss’ case this is clearly not so. Though using standard swing-bop rhythms, his music is fully contemporary in terms of harmonic daring. His music includes some elements of Bill Evans, but also a bit of Lennie Tristano, Jaki Byard and McCoy Tyner, all among my favorite jazz pianists.
More importantly, Strauss really swings as do his bassist and drummer, and the former (Jonathan Robinson) has a big, rich tone reminiscent of Charles Mingus (I know; I just relistened to the bulk of Mingus’ output during the early part of this week, when my computer was being repaired and I couldn’t get online). Drummer Andrea Marcelli has a light, deft touch that just sounds perfect behind both of them.
Even in a quiet, introspective piece like Morning Glory, both pianist and bassist push the beat—here, in a Latin rhythm—in such a way that ennui never sets in. At least in this particular set, I noticed that Strauss generally plays clean, uncluttered yet always inventive lines. He isn’t looking to dazzle your ears with superfluous notes and licks. Everything he plays has substance and binds together musically.
Despite the fact that this album pays homage to older jazz while still retaining a modern identity, Strauss found a way to make each number herein sound individual and different, no mean feat nowadays. In For Andrea, I heard a few moments that even reminded me of Herbie Nichols. Both Robinson and Marcelli also take solos on this one, to good effect.
Bad Harzburg is a ballad in the Evans tradition, using some of the same chords and figurations as the legendary pianist yet retaining Strauss’ own identity. Doing It starts in ballad tempo but them moves into an asymmetric rhythm with vocalist Sigal Adler Strauss doing a soft, wordless vocal in the background. The tempo shifts to a medium-tempo 4 here and there to catch the unwary listener napping, as do the rising and falling chromatic passages.
Serenity opens with a quirky line played by Strauss and Robinson in the bass before moving into another ballad. This one I found to be good but not as interesting as other tracks on the CD although Strauss’ solo, using some whole tones, was quite good. So too is Robinson’s solo. By way of compensation, however, Off to Berlin has a nice, funky jazz-soul beat which Strauss and company play to perfection, and Nicht so laut is a slow bossa nova piece with a wonderful laid-back summertime sort of feel to it. Song for Amy pays tribute to a 16-year-old suicide, the daughter of one of Strauss’ friends. It’s a slow, haunting piece, again with Sigal Adler Strauss on the vocal. Guest artist Joe Kucera plays soprano sax on this one as well. This song is the closest to soft or “ambient” jazz on the album. Our intrepid vocalist also appears on Tears of Joy, another somewhat drippy ballad.
The album closes with Neve Tzedik, a solo ballad for piano. I know that artists like to program their CDs certain ways, but in recent years I’ve heard several like this, that start out like a house on fire and end up with ballad material, which I feel is a mistake. That being said, Strauss plays very well on it, displaying his skills to full effect and reminding us that he doesn’t need the trio in order to swing.
Overall, then, a good album with three uninteresting ballads.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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