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Aaron Diehl: The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

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Aaron Diehl’s eagerly awaited studio debut-the Wynton Marsalis protégé’s first album for a prominent label following two self-released live efforts-takes its title from the fashion-world term for a custom tailor. That’s the role the 26-year-old pianist sees himself playing in writing and arranging for the musicians in his quartet. But the title also reflects the precision and polish with which he dresses up his historic artistic influences in contemporary style.

Even as the album traces Diehl’s artistic development to the present, the music maintains strong ties to the late ’50s and early ’60s. The format of piano, vibraphone (Warren Wolf), bass (David Wong) and drums (Rodney Green) tells you straight off that the Modern Jazz Quartet and its blues-meets-baroque blend are in the mix. (While at Juilliard, Diehl helped the widow of MJQ leader John Lewis organize his archive.) But so are the rarified cocktail sound of Ahmad Jamal, the glistening runs of Oscar Peterson and the heady strategizing of Dave Brubeck.

All of these styles are pulled together with great aplomb. “Generation Y” is an exhilarating table-setter that shows off Wolf at full gallop; “Stop and Go” is fueled by Diehl’s dazzling rapid-fire effects; “Moonlight in Vermont” shrewdly juxtaposes the MJQ’s buttoned-down approach and Jamal’s signature ebb and flow; and Diehl’s solo take on Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose” is a beautiful and haunting meditation. With its prologue and epilogue and 11 balletic minutes of Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” The Bespoke Man’s Narrative is burdened a bit by its seriousness of purpose. But Diehl and his tailor-made quartet have more than enough sparkle to override such austerity.

Originally Published