Respect Vol. 1
The “respect” of the title refers to Roy Assaf’s forebears on jazz piano; he honors 10 of them, in chronological order, from Count Basie to Danilo Pérez, before closing out with a pair of originals. His song choices are unconventional—sometimes to a fault, as the deservedly obscure “Brake’s Sake” may be the least Monkish tune Monk ever penned—but the performances, most by a stellar trio including bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson, are almost uniformly smart and inspiring. Rogers, best known for long associations with first Nicholas Payton and now Charles Lloyd, has never sounded more bold and vibrant.
An entire brass and percussion orchestra is resplendent on McCoy Tyner’s superb tune “Fly With the Wind” (originally written for strings), but the other expanded-ensemble stab, an 11-piece rendition of “Textures,” lacks the single-minded nuance of Herbie Hancock’s original solo tour de force. Assaf is intimate with his own artistry—he resists overplaying on Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom,” and siphons the sentiment of Kenny Barron’s “Song for Abdullah” into his delicate touch and phrasing. Already a fine stylist and composer at 30, he seems destined for an enriched maturity.