The improvisational element so vital to jazz may not be an a priori feature of classical music, but rare is the alert jazz musician who doesn’t appreciate the melodic and harmonic riches to be found within the earlier genre.
Pianist Bill Mays is one such player, and with Fantasy, he explores the confluence of jazz and classical musics with unpretentious intelligence. His cohorts, trumpeter and flugelhornist Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horn, are essential factors in the album’s sagacious mix of compositional rigor and improvisational ardor. While the classically trained Horn successfully reveals her inner urge to venture beyond the written notes, Stamm, the experienced jazzman, makes splendid use of his dazzling tone and robust delivery to bring themes to life. Mays, for his part, seems delightfully free of proving himself worthy of either genre; he just goes his own confident way as player, composer and arranger.
The album rightfully draws its title from the centerpiece of the project: a three-movement fantasy that weaves Mays’ attractive melodies together with integrated solos by the trio mates. Other than this opus, the threesome only confers on two other performances: luscious adaptations of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” and Debussy’s popular piece, “Girl with the Flaxen Hair.”
The remaining tracks, recorded nearly four years before the trio performances, mate Mays and Stamm. “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” the Broadway standard culled from a theme by Borodin, and Gershwin’s “Prelude #2” receive bright renditions from two players obviously accustomed to each other’s ways yet still juiced by the interaction. The most ambitious duet pairs Bach’s “Invention #8” with Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” (among smatterings of other bop classics), drawing on the contrapuntal natures of both compositions. Thanks to Mays and Stamm, Bach and Bird get along swimmingly.