The potent language of Black American Music is in full force on Uptown in Orbit, featuring pianist Emmet Cohen and his magnificent trio comprising contrabassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole. Anyone who has been following the exploits of Mr Cohen on social media, when he hosts live performances at a now-fabled Emmet’s Place will also be aware of the constellation of musical stars who grace the music when the trio is expanded to include other voices. Accordingly, this recording features two such men-at-arms: the inimitable trumpeter Sean Jones and alto saxophonist with a prescient wailing voice, Patrick Bartley.
In the works gathered on this recording the pianist and his trio [sometimes a quintet, when the saxophonist and trumpeter step in] employ the quintessential bluesy language of Jazz with a distinctive brand of succinct and penetrating expressivity. Mr Cohen and his young partners pay tribute to past masters – Willie “The Lion” Smith [on the opening Finger Buster], Neil Hefti [on Li’L Darlin’], Cedar Walton [on Mosaic], Gerry Mulligan [on Venus de Milo], and the incomparable Duke Ellington [on Braggin’ in Brass].
Performances there – and elsewhere on originals by Russell Hall [The Loneliest], and Mr Cohen on the five other pieces, rivet attention through a varied juxtaposition of poetic musings and technical colorations. Mr Cohen is his usual über-proficient self with pianism that seems to come from a deep place; one that is informed by erudition and a sashaying virtuosity that suggests his musicianship was born and not made. His thrilling glissandos and monumental arpeggios are often constructed in spacy, elliptical arcs of cascading notes that fly off the page.
These gestures are interposed by deep, broodingly beautiful sensuous and balladic performances on the likes of Li’L Darlin. Mr Hall and Mr Poole, who – one might add – are fully attuned to Mr Cohen’s artistic vision keep pace with enigmatic slides, entering dramatic and luscious soundscapes; both play with impetuous virtuosity as they engage in touching conversations with the pianist. When the trio is expanded to a quintet [on the whispered murmurings of Mr Hill’s elegiac The Loneliest], the power of the language of The Blues, as “sung” by the musicians, is absolutely breathtaking from one harmonic variation to the next.
Standing proudly between fierce Willie “The Lion” Smith’s Finger Buster and the panoply of sonorities of both Mr Mulligan’s Venus de Milo and Duke Ellington’s Braggin’ the Brass, [the latter comes alive magically sans brass!] are the compositions of Mr Cohen [and Mr Hall – as prodigiously gifted a composer as he is an arranger]; these are works that reveal Mr Cohen’s compositional acumen in writing in The Blues idiom – and thusly, also in Jazz. As in the two versions of Uptown in Orbit, the composer builds pithy statements from seemingly simple materials. Extended techniques, including microtones, are used that come across as essential components in the music’s emotional trajectory.
In everything compositional and in performance, Mr Cohen and the trio combine luscious lyricism with a dramatic panache that illuminates the extremes of Mr Cohen’s [and the other composers’] music. Mr Cohen makes especially trenchant contributions anchoring his creations [in trio and quintet settings] at the piano with utterly insolent virtuosity.
Tracks – 1: Finger Buster; 2: Uptown in Orbit; 3: My Love Will Come Again; 4: Spillin’ the Tea; 5: Li’l Darlin’; 6: The Loneliest; 7: Uptown in Orbit [reprise]; 8: Distant Hallow; 9: Mosaic; 10: Venus de Milo; 11: Braggin’ the Brass
Musicians – Emmet Cohen: piano; Russell Hall: contrabass; Kyle Poole: drums; Patrick Bartley: alto saxophone [2, 3, 6 – 8]; Sean Jones: trumpet 2, 3, 6 – 8]
Released – 2022
Label – Mack Avenue [Mack 1195]
Runtime – 56:56
YouTube Audio Playlist – Emmet Cohen: Uptown in Orbit