This album’s connections to Manhattan are not always obvious, and its sustained high energy feels nothing like a reverie. But Richie Beirach may never have made a more sophisticated, comprehensive album statement in his 30-year recording career.
In Beirach’s highly individual interpretations of standards, every song is recognizable except for its tone. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is not its brooding, mournful self. Beirach chops it up and creatively abuses it. “Stella by Starlight” is also broken down into asymmetrical segments. Beirach reassembles them into bold, angular architecture, rejecting all of the song’s sweet wistfulness. “If I Were a Bell” is a blur, a fond parody in sheer speed. “Footprints” has been done by so many of the world’s greatest horn players that it is hard for a piano-trio version to sound complete. Beirach smokes it. With just two hands, he hammers the famous bass line, rivets the melody like it has rarely been riveted and adds inspired embellishments to each.
Beirach has played with George Mraz and Billy Hart for a quarter-century. They are both locked tight into the ensemble, yet individually distinct—Mraz with his huge glowing tone, Hart with his private, scattered march time that somehow makes everything flow.