Critique: "Pensive Moments" (CD)

Betty Liste

Genre(s): Piano Jazz
URL: http://www.bettyliste.com

Ironically, for an album entitled "Pensive Moments," its highlight is anything but pensive. On her version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” pianist Betty Liste offers some of her most inspired, vibrant playing, an infectiously swinging groove further elevated by Billy Hart’s hypnotically shuffling drums and Ted Curson’s soaring trumpets. There’s no denying that Monk is an oft-covered jazz icon; performing any of his compositions seems to be a rite of passage for many serious artists in the genre. However, most of them are not essential because they don’t provide anything new to familiar material. The same cannot be said for Liste who injects her own improvisational skills into the track. A second Monk song, the immortal “‘Round Midnight,” is rendered by Liste with stately piano melodies, lovingly complemented by Curson’s warm, soothing trumpet.

"Pensive Moments" is actually the debut album from Liste, a native of the New Jersey jazz scene. Liste’s deep-seated affection for the material is quite evident in her passionate solos and tasteful, moving renditions. Some of the record’s finest touches are subtle ones, such as how Curson’s trumpet slips halfway into “Stolen Moments,” giving it a cozy, nighttime atmosphere. Curson also contributes a light funk vocal turn on “Summertime” while his trumpet sizzles with a sun-drenched glow. In the opening of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Liste delivers some of her most reflective, incandescent playing. It is stunningly beautiful.

True to its title, "Pensive Moments" does indeed have its share of dreamy introspection. “Goodbye Mr. Evans” is a bittersweet ballad performed with haunting fragility. It’s no surprise that “Goodbye Mr. Evans” is among Liste’s favorites; you can hear her love for the track in the emotional pull of her performance. “Insensatez” spins the moods as well with delicate, dazzlingly pretty playing from Liste.

"Pensive Moments" impresses with its lively, creative performances and overall classy presentation.

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Leslie Connors