Pat Bianchi Trio – A Higher Standard [TrackList follows] – 21-H, 21H001, 57:30 [6/5/15] ****:
(Pat Bianchi – organ, producer, arranger, mixer; Craig Ebner – guitar; Byron Landham – drums)
Jazz organist Pat Bianchi has performed with jazz artists such as Lou Donaldson, Harvey Mason, Mark Whitfield, Chuck Loeb, Terrell Stafford and Ralph Peterson. Bianchi is also currently part of guitarist Pat Martino’s trio. Those experiences have been learning situations for Bianchi, and influenced Bianchi’s approach to fronting his own trio. Bianchi explains that’s why his latest album is titled A Higher Standard. “I have spent a long time being a sideman to some incredible musicians,” he says, “and they have all taught me that as a musician/leader I need to hold myself and my music to a higher standard.”
Bianchi states he set an objective when he began his sixth project under his name, “My goal for this album —like all my others—is to find material that is going to challenge me, but won’t lose the energy, intent and feeling that is associated with the great jazz organists and their recordings.” That sense of tradition and adventure permeates the ten tracks, which include eight covers plus two Bianchi compositions. The music ranges from Stevie Wonder to John Coltrane, from Broadway show tunes to Bill Evans. Throughout, Bianchi and his trio members—guitarist Craig Ebner and drummer Byron Landham—perform vivid, spirited and swinging material. The album starts with Victor Youman’s grooving “Without a Song,” from the 1929 musical, Great Day (which was supposed to be turned into a musical film…but that’s another story). Bianchi blazes as his chords ripple and swell, and brings to mind one of his heroes, Larry Young. The lengthiest cut is a sublime version of Elmer Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” taken from the 1944 musical On the Town, famous for introducing “New York, New York.” Bianchi and Ebner present beautiful and understated lines while Landham makes the most of his cymbals and brushes. There is a lamenting sentiment here, like a couple leaving each other and hoping there will be time for a future encounter.
The pieces penned by other jazz stalwarts warrant some close inspection. Horace Silver’s “Blue Silver” is given a medium groove which acknowledges a blue mood without forfeiting vitality. Bianchi is prominent as he moves dexterously up and down his keyboard, while Ebner comps and Landham provides a robust rhythm. When Ebner steps in for a solo, he echoes Wes Montgomery’s economical and memorable tone. The CD’s shortest rendition is a zooming take on Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark.” There have been many translations of this tune, and Bianchi’s should be put near the top of the list. He and Ebner don’t slow down as they keep the momentum level at a high peak. Another notable number is Coltrane’s “Satellite,” from the 1964 Atlantic Records LP, Coltrane’s Sound. “Satellite” has an inventive ambiance. Bianchi adds unorthodox noises which help maintain a lightly unconventional tone, and the arrangement goes from upbeat to a decelerating dynamic. The threesome sustains a slow simmer and a late-night atmosphere on Evan’s “Very Early,” which has a soft, contemplative quality. The 6:30 arrangement contains lots of space for Ebner and Bianchi to improvise. The album closer is a soulful lope through Wonder’s “From the Bottom of My Heart,” from Wonder’s 2005 outing A Time 2 Love. Although Wonder’s song was a top ten hit, it might not be as familiar as Wonder’s other hits. Listening to Bianchi romp through this generates new respect for an overlooked gem which deserves wider appreciation. Landham’s backbeat, Ebner’s expressive comping and Bianchi’s animated soloing supply an infectious intensity.
Bianchi’s two originals match up well when compared to the rest of the material. The hastening “Will of Landham” has a fiery passion mixed with an angular unison line. Bianchi contributes a horn-like organ sound with interesting intervals and fills, and later in the cut, Ebner offers a sizzling solo. “Blues Minus One” has an appropriately bluesy timbre, but does not stay in a strict blues format. There is a syncopated rhythm, but Bianchi shakes loose of the blues foundation during his exploratory and extended improv, and Ebner follows suit when he solos, although his playing has a stronger blues base. Bianchi’s hour-long A Higher Standard is well worth hearing for jazz organ fans (you can stream a 3:38-long preview of the album online). Recommended for those who prefer conventional jazz organ music balanced with modern touches. Bianchi, Ebner and Landham are quite a combo; let’s hope they continue to have opportunities to produce similar jazz organ records.
TrackList: Without a Song; Blue Silver; So Many Stars; The Will of Landham; Some Other Time; Bohemia After Dark; Very Early; Satellite; Blues Minus One; From the Bottom of My Heart.