PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST The Music of Gregg Hill Featuring the Ben Rosenblum Trio
Rosenblum is a vessel of insight among the sea of jazz pianists today. What sets him apart from his contemporaries is his imaginative wit, economy, sense of proportion and motivic logic. He is a wonderful choice for Gregg Hill’s music, with his firm grasp of the jazz piano tradition and great breadth of stylistic mastery. Where there are Monkisms and Tynerisms in the musical language, Rosenblum is attentive without ever resorting to mimicry. This album entices repeated listens with its tunefulness and range of moods. The sound of classic jazz piano trio records are all here, such as on “New Sunday,” recalling an Ellingtonian “Money Jungle” palette. The echoes of Bill Evans in “Portrait of the Artist,” Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner in “Modal Yodel” that are all delightfully present in Hill’s writing are taken as springboards for the stories to unfold.
Rosenblum is one of those rare jazz interpreters who improvise in order to continue the narrative set up by the composition. He develops his ideas at the service of the tune, his elaborations imbued with a sense of inevitability, wielding both expression and meaning. Yet he is judicious with his musical treatments.
The bright splashes that open the album on “Fanogram” give way to Jaffe’s authoritative and melodic upright bass solo, underpinned by the lush and tasteful drumming and delicate cymbal work of Ben Zweig. Rosenblum draws out the figurative musical rainbows and curlicues of the melodic contours just as he has internalized and distilled Hill's musical language. The trio jumps into the Tyner-inspired “Modal Yodel” into an exploratory direction using rhythmic drive and propulsion to take the melodic fragments to trance-like heights. The group captures the stylistic range of Gregg Hill’s music with the medley of “First Impulse” as they beautifully transition into “Finder’s Keepers.” A bass-pedal tone driven dream sequence ensues and gossamer piano chords float the theme rubato at first. When the music really hits its stride, Rosenblum borrows a clear and declarative shout gesture from “Poinciana” which he cleverly transforms over the chord changes. The title track “Portrait of the Artist” is played sensitively and lyrically. The arco bass solo that follows the theme has an effective texture, plumbing the depths like an incantation over a drone, rising to meet the chord change before the piano solo. The percussion’s timbre shifts and the group dances as if around a musical ritual fire. “Thank You Notes” is a wonderful bop number. Jaffe adds a couple Monk of tasty quotes and Zweig lays down some sizzling brush work.
This album is truly a gem, a great pairing of memorable and evocative musical paintings played by a wonderful group. It’s certainly a lovely “Portrait” of Hill rendered in exquisite detail by Rosenblum and his fantastic trio of Ben Zweig on drums and Marty Jaffe on bass.