Phil Markowitz is best known for his four-year tenure with Chet Baker. His distinctive, crystalline piano is crucial to Baker albums like Broken Wing and Love for Sale. That was 30 years ago. There are probably people who wonder whatever became of Phil Markowitz.
He has been gigging as a sideman, receiving compositional grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, and recording infrequently as a leader on small labels.
His new album introduces a well-knit trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum. “For the Sake of…” has that particular Markowitz version of lyricism: pristine, cryptic, self-enclosed. On “Waiting,” he sustains a kind of trance for 12 minutes without ever letting it go static. It floats from image to image, sometimes coalescing into emotion, with long, rapt ruminations from Anderson.
Markowitz is also a sophisticated composer (“Breach,” a tightly twisted line for the victims of Katrina); a music professor who thinks up puzzles and solves them (“Whys and Wherefores,” a clever three-way contrapuntal stand-off among Markowitz’s two hands and Anderson’s bass); and a not-quite-straightahead swinger (“M.D.A.,” the title track).
But take it from someone who owned Broken Wing when it was new, and start with “For the Sake of…” and “Waiting.”