Ernest Turner Plays “My Americana”


WP 2019 - 2MY AMERICANA / TURNER: Return of Thanos. KIRKLAND: Dienda. MONK: Monk’s Dream. WALLER-RAZAF: Aint’t Misbehavin’. WONDER: If It’s Magic. TURNER: Circles. DORSEY: Precious Lord. TURNER-SCOTT-CURRY: In or Out. TINDLEY: We Shall Overcome / Ernest Turner, pno; Lance Scott, bs; Jon Curry, dm / self-produced CD, available from CD Baby

Pianist Ernest Turner and his trio present here of originals and older pieces that mean a lot to him. As he puts it in the press release, “I wanted to cover songs that reflected how I grew up. So I focused on what I call the ‘Black American songbook,’ including songs from the church and spiritual traditions while running the pop/jazz gamut from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk and Kenny Kirkland.” He has done just that in this release, although by not identifying the composers of each tune I had to scramble to try to figure out who wrote what. The only songs whose titles I immediately recognized were Monk’s Dream, Ain’t Misbehavin’, If It’s Magic, Precious Lord and We Shall Overcome.

The opener is a wild and rhythmically asymmetric Return of Thanos. Apparently the title refers to one of those Marvel “Avengers” films geared for adolescents, but he plays it with guts and imagination. His drummer, Jon Curry, is a little powerhouse behind him if somewhat circumspect in his own solo.

Dienda is a ballad by the late Kenny Kirkland, played with great sensitivity and a good feeling for color. Here, bassist Lance Scott stretches out behind the pianist for some rhythmically inventive playing while drummer Curry fills in nicely. The solo chorus beginning around 3:25 is highly imaginative, with Turner skipping around the keyboard to create some excellent musical structures. I particularly liked the way Turner played Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream, capturing the quirky and eclectic style of the famed pianist-composer to perfection while turning in an improvisation entirely his own. Later in this track, Turner’s playing becomes quite complex indeed as Curry pounds those drums behind him.

But the most startling transformation on the album is of Fats Waller’s and Andy Razaf’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, turned here into a 6/8 romp with Curry playing out-of-rhythm licks on the drums behind Turner and Scott. I’m not sure if Waller would like it, but he’d certainly appreciate Turner’s ingenuity. This one is a real gem from start to finish, yet Turner has also revamped Stevie Wonder’s If It’s Magic from his album Songs in the Key of Life (I’ve never cared much for Wonder’s singing, but have always thought him one of the finest songwriters of our time). Turner gives the music a very slight Latin feel to its regular soul beat, whereas in his original piece, Circles, it’s strongly Latin all the way. This piece is built around fairly simple motifs that Turner has found a way of combining into a coherent tune, although he occasionally slows down the tempo or interrupts the music flow with pauses. Harmonically, it works its way around chromatics the same way John Coltrane did, only much slower so that you have the time to hear and absorb every note. Turner could almost have called this one The Chromatic Latin!

Thomas A. Dorsey’s old spiritual Precious Lord is taken at a nice, relaxed yet loping pace in 3 by Turner solo. The trio makes up for their non-appearance here by playing really hard behind the leader on the minor-key original In or Out with its modal harmonies. I really liked this one a lot! The finale is a version of We Shall Overcome, played in a slowish 3 with Curry adding off-rhythm accents on the drums.

This is a very fine album with some extremely imaginative arrangements and consistently interesting playing. Recommended!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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