Where I live, in Seattle, Lynne Arriale gets a lot of airplay on late-night FM jazz programs. It is easy to hear why. She is a pianist whose velvet touch and whose intimate, nonthreatening lyric muse goes beautifully with 1 a.m. But during a recent trip to Paris, I caught the Lynne Arriale Trio live and the pianist revealed that she is more than a poetess of the postmidnight ballad. In person, she can play with a subtle but insistent urgency that gathers power over the course of an evening.
Arriale played most of the songs on her new album, Arise, at the Duc Des Lombards club. When you hear two sets of live music and leave with a CD covering essentially the same material, what results is a direct comparison of live to recorded music, and the recording always loses. (Keith Jarrett has said that a recording of a concert is "like a fax" of the actual event.) When you have heard the Lynne Arriale Trio play the Guess Who's "American Woman" live, with Paris outside the door, the CD provides a pale reflection of the experience. The disparity is created only partially by the fact that Arriale's ensemble, in person, provides intense visual stimuli. She is strikingly attractive, and the movements of her drummer, Steve Davis, are as precisely, theatrically choreographed as those of Baryshnikov. The contrast mostly comes from the fact that, in person, you hear in her music a subtle inner force that eludes capture on record.
The gap between live and recorded music is widened by the undistinguished sonic quality of Arise. The recording dulls the edges of each instrument's attack. The brand new Motema label created a beautiful CD package for Arise, but made the questionable decision to use drummer Steve Davis as the recording engineer.
Still, once we have returned home from places like Paris, records are all we have, and Arise is a very strong one. Lynne Arriale is, in the best sense of the term, a popularizer. Her music is instantly engaging and accessible; it draws you in and catches you in its gentle, sharp hooks. She takes pieces in the public domain like Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and "Kum Ba Ya" and transforms them into manifestations of her own lucid, rhapsodic sensibility. Her vision of such material is so personal and meticulously detailed and complete that often it feels like there is little opportunity or need for improvisation. But from deep inside them, she does invent upon these songs. It is just that the outcome is so elegantly finished it sounds planned.
There are two originals here that contain Arriale's own spiritual encounter with the events of 9/11. "The Fallen" and the title track are concentrated distillations of emotion. There is a humility and authenticity in their starkness that makes their aching sadness healing.