Catalyzed by her recovery from breast cancer, LeeAnn Ledgerwood revitalizes the piano-trio format on Simple Truth, her first SteepleChase disc since 2003’s Walkin’ Up. It interweaves originals such as the respectful homage “Ballade for Bill Evans” and the calm, commanding title cut with inspired takes on such modernist classics as Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” Wayne Shorter’s puckish, driving “Pinocchio” (use spell check, SteepleChase; you mangled this title) and Bronislau Kaper’s “Invitation,” served up sultry, leisurely and Latin. (Bassist Ron McClure lays down a lovely, darkling solo on that last number.) The tracks shift between the structured—a recasting of Davis’ “All Blues” is strikingly purposeful and architectural—and the more organic, like the stormy, lambent original “Betrayal of Daylight.”
Ledgerwood’s approach is romantic and warm; leavening and animating it are the stately McClure and impressionistic drummer Nasheet Waits, a master of brush stroke and cymbal splash. Ledgerwood is not interested in impressing with technique and daring; hers is an artistry of nuance and emotional layering. Fittingly, the detail in these cleanly produced tracks, as she illustrates in building “Nardis” geometrically, solo, before bass and drums kick in, is the surprise and reward. The trio’s empathy is startling but expected: Ledgerwood has played with McClure since the early ’80s, and Waits (son of the late drummer Freddie Waits) fits in as if born to the group.
Ledgerwood doesn’t set out to blaze trails. Her intent is to craft thoughtful, personal originals that build on and dovetail with a rich archival repertoire. To the pianist’s credit, she succeeds. Simple Truth is an appropriate and understated title for this modest, inviting album.