Jazz CD Reviews

Taylor Eigsti – Daylight at Midnight – Concord Jazz

Eigsti admits he could spend all day cheerfully performing standards.

Published on September 18, 2010

Taylor Eigsti – Daylight at Midnight – Concord Jazz

Taylor Eigsti – Daylight at Midnight – Concord Jazz CJA-32100-02, 55:56 ****:

(Taylor Eigsti – piano, Fender Rhodes, Mellotron samples, Rhodes PianoBass, Wurlitzer electric piano; Harish Raghavan – electric & acoustic bass; Eric Harland – drums, percussion; Becca Stevens – vocals (tracks 2, 4, 6, 9 & 11), ukulele (track 4), charango (track 9); Julian Lage – guitar (tracks 2 & 5))

Jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti is not typical. He started studying piano at age four, when most kids learn preschool social skills; at age 15 he joined the teaching staff at the Stanford Jazz Workshop at Stanford University, where he still teaches. He’s 26 – considered young by most jazz criteria – and yet here he is with his seventh album, Daylight at Midnight, his third for the Concord Jazz label.

Eigsti admits he could spend all day cheerfully performing standards: he’s previously recorded material by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Jobim. But for Daylight at Midnight Eigsti shapes a new direction for himself and his trio, which includes bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland. Augmenting the set list is friend and guitarist Julian Lage and vocalist Becca Stevens. Rather than use the past for inspiration, Eigsti utilizes his imagination on modern tracks with an emphasis on melody and balances instrumentals alongside pop-oriented vocal songs that feature Stevens.

The result sometimes teeters toward the adult contemporary radio market rather than precise jazz territory but Eigsti keeps the nearly hour-long project focused and well-situated.

The trio starts with Coldplay’s bouncy, Brit-pop nugget “Daylight,” where Eigsti’s piano lines flow with Raghavan’s bass and Harland’s drums, which provide animated, rhythmic layers to diminish the original’s pseudo-disco trimmings, while Eigsti heightens the tune’s attractive edges. Another memorable interpretation is an elegiac take on Rufus Wainwright’s “The Art Teacher,” where Eigsti showcases his skills on Fender Rhodes, which is overlaid on top of Mellotron samples and piano. Wainwright’s arrangement is relatively simple, which affords the threesome lots of interplay space. Eigsti tapers to a duo interaction on Nick Drake’s folk ballad, “Pink Moon” – made famous in a Volkswagen television advertisement – where Lage echoes Drake’s ethereal acoustics while Eigsti’s Fender Rhodes, piano and a bit of Rhodes bass evoke Drake’s heavenly voice. Eigsti goes even further afield on a straightforward solo piano interlude of Catalan composer Federico Mompou’s impressionistic miniature, “Secreto,” a haunting piece that might remind listeners of either Satie or Debussy.

Becca Stevens is an emergent singer/songwriter who melds folk, pop and jazz in her solo career and whose beguiling voice and lyrics enrich Daylight at Midnight. She supplies sweetness to “Magnolia,” a rural-ringed ballad co-written with Eigsti and she brings an elegant touch to a melancholy translation of Feist’s alternative rock composition, “The Water,” at times emulating Joni Mitchell’s jazzier occasions. Her two best moments come on Imogen Heap’s “Little Bird,” where Eigsti jettisons Heap’s electronica tinges and replaces them with minimal, funky Fender Rhodes à la Stevie Wonder; and during a quartet reading of Elliott Smith’s late-night discourse on drinking, “Between the Bars,” which summarizes Smith’s low-key original with a suggestion of Madeleine Peyroux’s jazz edition.While Daylight at Midnight is neither Eigsti’s nor Steven’s finest hour – both artists’ definitive work is on the horizon – this release has much to offer those who like jazz with a firm pop music sensibility.

1. Daylight
2. Magnolia
3. The Art Teacher
4. The Water
5. Pink Moon
6. Little Bird
7. Secreto
8. Chaos
9. Between the Bars
10. Speaking Song
11. Midnight after Noon

— Doug Simpson

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