Jacky Terrasson – Push – Concord Jazz/Concord Music Group CJA-31640-02, 56:45 ****:
(Jacky Terrasson – piano, keyboards, vocals (track 8 and 11), producer; Ben Williams – acoustic & electric bass (track 10); Jamire Williams – drums; Gregoire Maret – harmonica (tracks 3 and 8); Jacques Schwarz-Bart – tenor saxophone (track 6); Matthew Stevens – guitar (track 8); Cyro Baptista – percussion (tracks 8, 10 and 11))
Pianist Jacky Terrasson is known for producing engaging jazz defined by his personality and formidable technique while remaining in touch with what modern jazz audiences want and like. Fans do not expect the 1993 Thelonious Monk competition winner to do a 180-degree turn away from what he has done in the past. But as Push – the title of Terrasson’s 11th release and his first for the Concord label – implies the keyboardist makes strides in a slightly variable direction. For one, he offers up a new trio with bassist Ben Williams (the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition winner) and drummer Jamire Williams (no relation to Ben): the trio is abetted by four guests on several selections. For another, Terrasson emphasizes more of his compositions: seven of the 11 tracks were penned by the pianist. The arrangements present different grooves, beats and vibes that move the material forward in a fresh way. And finally, Terrasson inaugurates his vocal debut on two of his conceptions.
It’s fitting that with two Monk prize recipients on board Terrasson chooses to cover two Monk songs. The longest cut is “Ruby My Dear,” which adds Gregoire Maret’s complimentary harmonica. Maret provides a specific kind of twist to the familiar standard while Terrasson contributes harmonics that do not stray far from Monk’s design but nevertheless do not copy what has come before. Even better is “‘Round Midnight,” played with a prominent percentage of proficiency and prowess. There is a bit of Keith Jarrett in the arrangement – right down to Terrasson’s earthy cries that bubble under some sections – but for the most part Terrasson shapes this as his own interpretation. On an upbeat version of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” Terrasson dips into bebop territory as he hints at Jarrett on some of the phrasing. The record’s most memorable cover is a mingling of the classic “Body and Soul” with Michael Jackson’s pop hit “Beat It.” In Terrasson’s hands, the improbable combination works incredibly well. Rather than assemble a two-part medley as many musicians probably would, Terrasson adopts meaningful melodic fragments from each tune and pairs them together as building blocks for his own unique departure. Terrasson uses a counter-melody that forms a foundation for his composite creation and only establishes the original melodies a few times. He gets great support from both of the Williams, who furnish well-developed rhythmic diversity.
An interesting change-up is Terrasson’s up-to-date “Say Yeah,” one of two originals that feature his understated lightly soulful vocals. The percolating, funky piece once again brings in Maret on harmonica – although here he is underutilized – and also has a minor Latin quality courtesy of acoustic guitarist Matthew Stevens and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Then there’s Terrasson’s frenetic “Beat Bop,” highlighted by Terrasson’s fleet acoustic piano fingering and his spring-loaded synthesizer remarks, Williams’ pounding drums (which evoke a famous drummer with the same last name, Tony Williams) and a humorous ending that confers a comical characteristic. Another noteworthy outing is the mid-tempo, post-bop “Morning,” which stands out with help from tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart.
1. Gaux Girl
2. Beat It/Body and Soul
3. Ruby My Dear
4. Beat Bop
5. ‘Round Midnight
7. My Church
8. Say Yeah
9. You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To
10. Carry Me Away
11. O Café, O Soleil
— Doug Simpson