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Peggy Stern: Actual Size

Drawing from early experiences with R&B and Afro-Cuban bands, as well as collaborations with saxophonists Lee Konitz and the late Thomas Chapin, classically-trained pianist Peggy Stern crafts an all-encompassing session of 11 originals.

This is her third Koch album, but the first time she’s written for a larger jazz ensemble fronted by three horns. In ensemble and solos, Ron Horton (trumpet), Art Baron (trombone) and John McKenna (tenor saxophone) navigate Stern’s beguiling compositions in harmonious ways, especially on the Latinate opener, “Salsicle,” the blues-tinged kicker “Buckleup” and the gorgeous tribute to the late guitarist Attila Zollar, “Attila/Zolong,” which switches moods from somber to celebratory. Other highlights include Stern’s funky, toe-tapper “Leeway” (from an album she made with Konitz) and “New Rain,” a dreamy song of separation performed by an 11-member vocal ensemble.

Supported by well-chosen rhythm mates-bassists Harvie Swartz or Art Kell, drummers Bernard Purdie or Tony Moreno, percussionist Memo Acevedo-Stern’s acoustic piano performances are solid, dynamic and imaginative at any tempo.

Her unpredictable phrasing and penchant for lyricism add appeal. But the success of this outing is substantially shaped by Stern’s alluring, mood-painting compositions, which provide the springboard for splendid solos from all. There isn’t a dull tune in the bunch.

Originally Published