Roberta Piket is an under-the-radar pianist who has made some excellent records. Among them are Love and Beauty (2007), an interactive trio session, and Sides, Colors (2011), with an expanded ensemble including woodwinds and strings. Her new album is a departure, her first solo project. Her strengths carry over: emotional honesty, harmonic ingenuity, taste and discipline.
Piket makes creative decisions on material here, and every piece sets up a special, separate challenge for a solo pianist. But to describe Solo as successful problem-solving makes it sound academic. It is not. The album opens with a dead slow, rapt version of the great, neglected Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz ballad “I See Your Face Before Me.” Piket’s chords are deep in the song’s sadness. Her natural inclination is toward the darker colors.
The next piece is virtual Monk, a spilling, free meditation called “Variations on a Dream.” It is followed by actual Monk transformed. Piket lavishes her own refined details all over the kinky melody of “Monk’s Dream.” She plays “Something to Live For” through once, without improvisation but with a new coda. Her dramatic tremolos make Billy Strayhorn’s song her own testament, in two minutes. No one has made Bruno Martino’s “Estate” sound so portentous (and, yes, dark). Trumpet players and saxophonists love Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” Piket turns it into a dense solo piano sonata. The famous melody comes around again and again, buried more deeply each time, and reharmonized.
“Improvisation Blue” is an appropriate closer for this intensely personal album. Piket’s father, Frederick Piket, was a respected classical and liturgical composer. She never knew that her father had written popular songs, but she found “Improvisation Blue,” from the 1950s, among his papers. She plays one chorus of its lovely melody unadorned, thoughtfully, with obvious love.