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John Stetch: Standards

The freedom of solo piano is an exhilarating experience….” So says John Stetch in his notes to Standards (Justin Time), and it has become his ultimate form of self-expression. The Canadian-born pianist possesses an unlimited imagination, unique harmonic and rhythmic conceptions and the digital dexterity to execute any idea he hears. Right now, he’s on a self-imposed mission to create a library of solo statements “without being harnessed to the traditional gridwork,” and this is the second CD in that venture, the first being Ukrainianism (Justin Time, 2001).

Nine of the 10 tracks here are carefully chosen standards. Two Charlie Parker melody lines offer great contrast: the seldom heard “Segment” (aka “Diverse”) begins minimally with a one-finger “metronome” on two and four, then goes through cubistic variations before ending in a virtuosic flourish; the second is a playful treatment of “Moose the Mooche,” often over a one-finger pedal point, that features not only unison octaves, but a “unison” run half a tone beyond the octave! A jagged left-hand chord pattern runs through “Like Someone in Love,” played in 7/4. Unexpected quirks in Stetch’s stride succeed in making Monk’s “Pannonica” sound noneccentric.

A pedal point in the right hand leads to a 6/4 version of “Out of Nowhere,” a lilting arrangement that finds the last eight bars of each chorus suddenly thrust into an unexpected key, producing a pleasantly jarring effect. Contrastingly, his reading of “Embraceable You,” over unadorned arpeggios, is nearly naive. Jerome Kern himself might not recognize “All the Things You Are.” It goes through a rubato chorus with mere hints of melody, and an up chorus with more strident reharmonizing. It ends suddenly with the familiar 3-note “intro” used by boppers. It’s that kind of album-heady.

Originally Published