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Andy LaVerne: Shangri-La (SteepleChase)

A review of the pianist's latest album

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Andy LaVerne, Shangri-La
The cover of Shangri-La by Andy LaVerne

The previous recording in Andy LaVerne’s large SteepleChase discography (Faith, 2017) featured trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, bassist Mike Richmond, and drummer Jason Tiemann. This new album adds Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone.

Some good news about Shangri-La: Sipiagin and Bergonzi are special players. Sipiagin’s solos are complete bold statements and his tone on both trumpet and flugelhorn is penetrating and pure. Bergonzi’s tenor sound is delightfully impure, full of flutters and abrasions and nasal intensities. LaVerne writes some graceful themes. “Guiding Light” is one of two tunes here for the late John Abercrombie, LaVerne’s friend and collaborator. Sipiagin and Bergonzi take turns with the melody in heartfelt calls and responses, touching new emotions of love and loss on each pass. Nine LaVerne originals, balanced among blues, ballads, and postbop shout-outs, are carefully crafted.

Some other news about Shangri-La: LaVerne’s well-made tunes sometimes sound generic. “Noteification” is rather like at least 100 convoluted anthems on at least 100 records since the birth of bebop. “Bluestrain” is also vaguely familiar because it could be anybody’s blues. When LaVerne solos, the level of creativity drops. His innocuous, pleasant piano work lacks compelling ideas.

An unqualified success is the recorded sound of engineer Chris Sulit. In an era when great studios (Systems Two, Avatar, Bennett) keep closing, Sulit, working in his Trading 8s Studio in Paramus, New Jersey, has become a keeper of the flame. Shangri-La is a vivid, dynamic sonic portrayal of an accomplished new-millennium jazz quintet.

Preview, buy or download Shangri-La on Amazon!

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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.