Another Tasty Dish from a Grooving Daddy
I'm old enough to remember the plate-spinning acts on the Sullivan show, where to the strains of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" an increasingly frantic performer balanced revolving dish after revolving dish atop wobbling rods, then took a bow when they were all – miraculously – spinning happily.
I was reminded of this felicitous talent by David Arnay's new "concept album," "Eight." That concept – starting out with a solo piano track, then augmenting the band by one additional instrument with each subsequent tune until his talented ensemble maxes out as an octet on the finale – is a novel way of showcasing the pianist's skill not just as a player and writer, but arranger.
To further torture my dishware metaphor, listening as the record gains momentum and complexity is a little like filling up a plate at a tasty buffet: if it's done correctly, each dish complements both the one before it and the one after. And instead of ending up with a gravy-soaked mishmosh, the thematic consistency of Arnay's writing guarantees that "things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better," as Huck Finn so memorably put it.
Arnay has clearly grown considerably as an artist since "Daddy's Groove," but the tunes still cook with the same funk-, blues-, and Latin-inspired rhythms that infused that earlier effort. Particular standouts are his solo interpretation of Tizol's and Ellington's "Caravan," and his modal-reggae-space-fest on "Giant Steps." Trippy, man. My favorite cut, "Billville," is a swinging tribute to Evans, who probably had the deftest hand with a waltz since Strauss. Somewhere in jazz heaven, Bill is all smiles.
Edwin Livingston, on bass, is unfailingly solid and inventive, and crisp brush- and cymbalwork by ace sessioner Peter Erskine, unsurprisingly, propels each tune along with verve and polish.
All in all, quite a tour de force -- and I can happily report that Arnay doesn't break a single plate. Think he can handle nine?