Thematic diversity is the most intriguing aspect of pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Roberta Piket’s latest release, Sides, Colors. She alternates between trio and large-group settings, and blends cuts that accent her acoustic piano playing with those featuring her on electric or organ. She even splits production duties with either Bill Mobley or Billy Mintz.
But no matter the mood or setting, Piket proves a capable, exciting player. She displays a soft, romantic side in her versions of Bill Evans’ “Laurie” and Jules Styne’s “Make Someone Happy,” ably reflecting the former’s lyrical touches and providing flair and edge in her melodic embellishments on the latter. Drummer Mintz’s lone arrangement is “Billy’s Ballad,” one of six cuts he’s penned. The strings add a pensive, striking quality to Piket’s lines and Mintz’s colorations. Johannes Weidenmueller’s most memorable bass solo comes during the opening section of “My Friends and Neighbors (For Sam Rivers),” a spiritual reworked as a tribute piece to the great avant-gardist.
Juxtaposing slow and brisk movements within songs is only one of many things Piket does to keep things lively throughout. Other tacks include her introspective vocal and scat section on the Rodgers/Hammerstein standard “If I Loved You,” dropping the bass out of “Empty House,” splitting Mintz’s “Idy’s Song and Dance” into separate tunes, and delivering spiraling organ solos on “Relent,” the session’s most adventurous number. It’s a duo effort, with Mintz effectively creating rapid-fire rhythms and patterns to buttress Piket’s furious pace.
The tempo shifts and interaction throughout “Ugly Beautiful” are subtle yet impressive. “Shmear” (another Mintz selection) is a playful romp, contrasted by the somber but inviting “Degree Absolute,” a tune paying homage to the vintage TV series The Prisoner. In lesser hands a CD covering this much musical terrain would be a jumbled mess, but Roberta Piket and her associates make Sides, Colors a seamless, enjoyable outing.