Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ted Rosenthal Trio: Out of this World

Playscape Recordings
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Out of this World

Pianist/composer/arranger Ted Rosenthal is a New Yorker through and through. He was born and raised in a Big Apple suburb, taught by local piano teachers, attended and earned two degrees from the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. Although he subsequently toured extensively, he has spent most of his musical career performing in the New York area.

Jazz was an early love, but he initially concentrated on the classical genre because, at that time, only limited opportunities existed for studying jazz at the conservatory level. He nonetheless avidly pursued jazz outside of school and, in 1988, won the Thelonious Monk Competition; that launched his career.

All roads may lead to Rome, but New York City always has been a magnet for jazz artists. As a result, Rosenthal had numerous opportunities to perform with name musicians such as Gerry Mulligan, Ron Carter, Art Farmer, Jon Faddis and Phil Woods. In fact, Rosenthal toured with the final Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and his first albums were as a sideman with that group. After Mulligan’s death, Rosenthal became musical director of the Gerry Mulligan Tribute Band, which also featured Lee Konitz, Bob Brookmeyer and Randy Brecker. Their CD, Thank You, Gerry, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1998.

One indicator of a pianist’s quality is related to his demand as accompanist by vocalists; Rosenthal is a first-call choice. As you listen to this album — his 13th as a leader — you’ll understand why; his touch is impeccable. He supports without intruding.

He concentrates here on timeless classics by Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and the like. All are familiar tunes, but I guarantee you’ve never heard them played like this. Rosenthal’s “de-ranging” (as he describes it) involves meter changes (3/4, 5/4, 9/8), harmonic and melodic variation, and improvisations that makes everything old, new again.

He can play at both blazing and ballad tempos, and his trio compatriots have much to do with the quality of his music. The bassist, Noriko Ueda, is equal to the best I’ve heard on the instrument. The drummer, Quincy Davis, has truly superior control; “fast” often results in “loud,” but not for Davis. He can perform blazing runs at just a whisper when appropriate.

This is a wonderful, enjoyable album: the kind of stuff you can play for hours.

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