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Aaron Diehl: Space Time Continuum

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On pianist-composer Aaron Diehl’s fourth album as a leader, his choices of both material and sidemen illuminate his recording’s title: The 29-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, creates an environment in which historic and contemporary styles of jazz, as well as the Western classical tradition, are welcome and integrated. While the album is not especially piano-centric, fans of Diehl’s exquisite touch, precise articulation and meticulous arrangements will be richly rewarded.

The six originals on Space Time Continuum reveal the influence of jazz forebears like Ellington, Bud Powell and John Lewis, an early role model to whom Diehl has been compared. Like Lewis, he draws on classical tradition; one is as likely to hear an echo of Rachmaninoff as of Ellington. As a pianist he’s equally eclectic, reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal, Monk-and, occasionally, classical virtuosi.

The stellar sidemen include Diehl trio-mates David Wong on bass and Quincy Davis on drums, occasionally augmented by two legendary players, Benny Golson on tenor saxophone and Joe Temperley on baritone. The brilliant, breathy-toned tenorman Stephen Riley performs on two tracks, as does the exciting young trumpeter Bruce Harris.

Despite the emphasis on originals, one of the album’s high points is the opener, “Uranus,” a spit-and-polish arrangement of the underperformed hard-bop standard by Walter Davis Jr. (recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1976); it sparkles in a crisp arrangement, with turn-on-a-dime phrasing. The noir-ish “Organic Consequence” features an eloquent, world-weary Golson solo. “Kat’s Dance,” written by pianist Adam Birnbaum, is a duo with Riley that begins like a jazz version of a Chopin nocturne, and it becomes a lilting setting for Riley to lean into the harmony in a quietly spectacular tenor solo. The frenetic “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is an interpretation of the famously busy Mondrian painting. Overall, a remarkably assured performance.

Originally Published