John Medeski: A Different Time (2013)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Organ ace John Medeski dons the mask of a left-leaning jazzer teetering on the brink of the jam band precipice when he appears with his co-lead super trio, Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW), or in any number of other contexts, but that's his public face; his private pianistic side is on display on the aptly title A Different Time.
Medeski returns to his alone-at-the-piano roots here, looking back to a time when intimate, measured self-expression reigned supreme in the world, and in his own developing musical persona. This thematic umbrella covers the entirety of his first solo piano album to date, but that's not the only period piece aspect of this recording; in fact, Medeski's musical explorations, as introspective and unforced as they may be here, are practically the only thing that tethers this album to the present day. A Different Time was recorded in New York's Waterfront Studios, which is housed within a church dating back to the 19th century, and it finds Medeski's fingers caressing the keys of a 1924 Gaveau; Medeski started the recording process with a Steinway but changed gears when he encountered, and ultimately fell for, the distinctly different Gaveau.
The studio location and instrument-of-choice obviously point to another era, but there's even more to this old-to-new story: A Different Time is the first album to be released under the recently revived Okeh imprint. Sony Music saw fit to re-launch this storied label, which played host to Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many other jazz greats in the past. It will now serve as a home for new music from saxophonist David Sanborn and pianist Bob James, guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Craig Handy, and other to-be-named artists and entities in the near-future; But it's dawning day belongs to Medeski.
The music that Medeski makes on A Different Time gets away from the technical merry-go-round/constant motion ideal that has permeated the solo piano sub-genre of jazz recordings. These performances aren't simple, but they shun overt signs of complexity in favor of a simpler sound. Medeski's fingers peruse the keys with a sense of curiosity and comfort on Willie Nelson's "I'm Falling In Love Again," and unpretentious chordal constructs give "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" a full-bodied feel. Medeski is credited for the remaining material, which includes improvised numbers, an MMW oldie ("Otis") and a number that he wrote as a teenager ("Waiting At The Gate"). Drabness, beauty, melancholy and a dash of impressionism merge in Medeski's hands during this intriguing solo piano date.
Track Listing: A Different Time; I'm Falling In Love Again; His Eye Is On The Sparrow; Ran; Graveyard Fields; Luz Marina; Waiting At The Gate; Lacrima; Otis.
Personnel: John Medeski: piano.
Record Label: Sony Masterworks