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September 2008

Stephen Anderson Trio
Forget Not
Summit

Under normal circumstances it would be unforgivable to employ a cliché such as “‘For Sentimental Reasons’ is worth the price of this CD by itself.” But the circumstances are not normal because this track, the only non-original on Forget Not, is so stunning, and it occurs within an album that otherwise falls mostly flat.

Stephen Anderson’s compositions are musically and historically erudite, and meticulously plotted and crafted. “Mobiles” draws on Earle Brown and Stockhausen. It has “a design of chord paths” intended to limit the repetition caused by “the cyclical nature of jazz.” It allows the players to make choices about “the ordering of events,” including “five different endings that may be selected randomly.”

“T’so Political” is constructed on the principle of isorhythm “similar to the technique used in 14th- and 15th-century motets” and has two independent lines, a cycle of pitches and a cycle of rhythms.

Piano students might find such puzzles (and their solutions) interesting, but most listeners will find them dry, cold and notably non-seductive as music. Yet “For Sentimental Reasons,” with affecting contributions from bassist Jeff Eckels, both arco and pizzicato, is freely exploratory, patiently detailed, deeply felt, entirely unsentimental, and continually surprising. If Stephen Anderson ever makes an album of standards, buy it.

Originally published in September 2008
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