Chicago-born/Las Vegas-based pianist RJ channels a soulful adroitness on Deceiving Eyes. Aided by a rotating cast of musicians called The Assignment, RJ creates intricate and shimmering musical patterns on each of the eleven pieces that comprise his debut.
On Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," RJ's sublimely stylish piano lines embellish the theme while bassist Scott Teeple's elegant solo wraps itself around the melody, giving it a bold flavor.
Another bassist, Mariko Kitada, opens Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" with a stimulating and angular vamps. The music's unpredictable tempo wavers in a delightful and unusual groove as Kitada trades her position in the spotlight with Julian Tanaka's bluesy tenor saxophone. Tanaka's smoothly flowing notes contrast nicely with the rhythm section's slight atonality.
On the balladic "I Took A Chance On Loving You," Tanaka's improvises on the beautiful melody with a warm vibrato, as RJ's bright solo builds upon the tenor's mellifluous harmonies. The three-way conversation between RJ, Tanaka and polyrhythmic drummer Paul Ringenbach crackles with life and originality.
The stirring, laidback ambience of the title track, featuring inventive time signatures, is enhanced by another drummer, Terry Wesley II, and electric bassist Jason Bolden. Over these, RJ lays down multiple strata of arpeggios and a lilting series of lines. The music evolves into an electric and ambient space before Wesley brings it to an exhilarating close.
RJ exhibits rich and elegiac lyricism on "Total Praise," brings in R&B sensibilities on "New Beginings," and dabbles with a bit of hip-hop on "Frontin.'" These seemingly disparate genres add spice to the session without breaking the thematic unity, thanks to RJ's virtuosity as a pianist and his alacrity as a band leader.
On this exciting freshman effort RJ and the Assignment exhibits a sophisticated and fervent musical vision. These supremely skilled musicians deserve much wider recognition.
Track Listing: Dolphin Dance; I Took A Chance On Loving You; Suicide Is Painless; Someday My Prince Will
Come; Total Praise; New Beginnings; Bolivia; Deceiving Eyes; Frontin'; Winter In Chicago;
Where R U.
Personnel: RJ: piano, keyboards; Julian Tanaka: tenor saxophone (2, 7); Paul Ringenbach: drums (1-4); Terry Wesley II: drums (6, 8-11); Kenneth Logan: drums (7); Scott Teeple: acoustic bass (1-4); Mariko Kitada: acoustic bass (7); Jason Bolden: electric bass (6-11); Jeanine Smith: vocals (11).