Joe Gilman – Relativity – Capri Records CAPRI 74119-2, 63:30 *****:
(Joe Gilman – piano, Fender Rhodes; Nick Frenay – trumpet, flugelhorn; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Zach Brown – bass; Corey Fonville – drums)
The connection between jazz and art has existed for decades. Corea/Picasso, Cage/ Rachmaninoff and Granados/Goya are examples of this synergy. In most cases, the underlying mathematical structures can translate into more abstract forms of expression. Certainly, Dutch graphic artist M.C. Esher would appear to be an ideal subject for jazz exploration. His complex drawings (and wood sculptures) of “impossible constructions” (also known as optical illusions) mirror some of the intriguing dynamics of this musical form. Pianist Joe Gilman is an accomplished musician and music professor. With a classical/jazz background, he is able to merge structure with improvisation. In 2010, he released an album of art-inspired music, Americanvas, which received critical acclaim.
Gilman’s latest venture, Relativity, is an ambitious endeavor to interpret the bold concepts of Esher. He is supported by talented creative players (Nick Frenay/trumpet; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown/ saxophone; Zach Brown/bass and Corey Fonville/drums). The resulting 11-track album is a creative tribute to a cultural pioneer. As the quintet opens in cohesive union (“Three Spheres”), the first portrait has a traditional jazz ambiance. Both Leftkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone) and Frenay (trumpet) deliver potent solos. Gilman’s rhythmic, elegant piano maintains the up tempo bop cadence. Each cut has a different feel and the quintet is always synchronized. “Waterfall” is melodic, as the saxophone plays against a cascading piano. The music simply flows with finger-snapping undercurrents. Brown and Fonville are connected throughout the piece.
Brooding classical intensity is interwoven with ruminative melodic form on “Three Worlds”. Gilman’s steady delicate touch is impressive as the darker and brighter themes mesh. This ensemble transitions stylishly with ease. “Smaller And Smaller” reverts to swing timing, but finds a spot for Brown to solo. Both trumpet and saxophone are capable of unified chorus and Gilman offers chord and notation combinations. They cook up some real funk with vampy syncopation, Flugelhorn and electric piano on “Encounter”. This is a reminder of jazz fusion influences of the 1970s. But with supple fluency, haunting, dream-like compositions (“Snow”) come to life with touches like a muted trumpet and bass clarinet. Gilman’s alternates pulsating chords and lyrical flourishes. Later, a Brazilian-infused jam, “Day And Night” employs a relaxed agility and lets the music glow with jazzy texture.
Each song is distinctive with unique accents. Frenay and Lefkowitz-Brown shine on “Sky And Water” with repetitive harmony. Then a shift to a piano trio alters the pace and sentiment. The final two pieces underscore the diverse musical representation. “Dewdrop” has a hard-bop punctuation (clocking in under two minutes), and “Ascending And Descending” explodes with raucous energy. Gilman’s solo is electrifying, and the quintet unites at the end with flair.
Relativity (which is also one of Esher’s most recognizable drawings) is a significant musical accomplishment that attempts a grand vision. The liner notes include notes detailing the relationship of the compositions to the work of Esher. This is jazz at its finest!
TrackList: Three Spheres; Waterfall; Three Worlds; Smaller And Smaller; Covered Alley; Encounter; Snow; Day And Night; Sky And Water; Dewdrop; Ascending And Descending