‘Crazy jazz’ hits home
Pianist and UNC-Chapel Hill music professor Stephen Anderson has described “Believe” (Summit) as “a lot of fast, energetic, crazy jazz.” You’ve no doubt heard the expression “crazy like a fox.” That’s how crazy this music is – as crazy as the slam-bang percussiveness of pianists such as Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner and, going way back, Art Hodes.
Anderson, who is a classical music composer as well as a jazz composer and pianist, knows that jazz is about the groove, the rhythmic energy of the melody as it’s played and the dance steps – real or imagined – that can break out when things are really hitting home.
And this album does hit home – from Anderson’s seven compositions to the accompaniment and interplay of bassist Jeffry Eckels and drummer Ross Pederson to the advanced technique and intensity of guest tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.
The album opens with “Pig Pickin’,” which now and then employs a minor-key tonality that suggests the down-home barbecue is being seasoned with sauce from the Middle East.
“Squeaky” evolves from a bluesy piano tinkle to a funky ensemble groove accented by thumping, splashy piano chords and percussive bass.
“I Didn’t Mean That ... Really” introduces Frahm, whose flurries and leapfrogging runs supercharge the performance. On “Tolerance,” Frahm reminds you of the trance-like way the late tenor saxophonist John Coltrane played a spiritual or a ballad.
As the performance builds, Anderson adopts the percussive attack and modal chord voicings of Tyner, the Coltrane quartet’s influential pianist from 1960 to ’65. Thad Jones’ “Quiet Lady” is the album’s lone respite of quiet balladry.
The remainder of the album is on a par with the aforementioned performances; Anderson sounds refreshingly personal throughout. While he has a slew of academic credits, his playing doesn’t sound academic.
Correspondent Owen Cordle