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Ariel Pocock: Touchstone

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With its pairing of a neophyte vocalist-pianist with four jazz heavyweights, this album might better have been titled Post-Millennial All-Stars Featuring Ariel Pocock. Not that the 22-year-old Floridian can’t hold her own in the company of tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. Indeed, she is gifted well beyond her years. Her vocal style suggests an amalgam of two other precocious talents, Nikki Yanofsky and Kat Edmonson, both of whom seem to have vacated jazz in favor of more pop-centric careers. Blending Yanofsky’s sanguinity with Edmonson’s dreamy detachment, hers is a dynamic, slightly scorched voice that is deeply jazz-steeped. She’s as impressive at maneuvering the tricky curves of Monk and Bob Dorough as she is navigating the densely powerful storytelling of Randy Newman and Tom Waits. Pocock’s keyboard skills are just as mature, whether exploring the pastoral calm of Keith Jarrett’s “Country” or anchoring her own “Barrel Roll,” seven minutes of chameleonic dynamism.

But Pocock never positions herself as the front-woman. Touchstone is an album of equals, of profound mutual respect, of generously shared spotlights. The soft bed that Grenadier and Harland shape beneath her interweaving of “Ugly Beauty” and “Still We Dream”; how Harland so masterfully supports Blake’s solo on “Devil May Care” and sets the steady heartbeat that propels the romantic ache of Lage’s guitar on James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes”: Those are just three among a spectrum of examples of the quintet’s estimably deferent interplay.

Originally Published