On Rebirth, pianist-composer Billy Childs’ first album of original music in seven years, everything simply clicks. There’s no elaborate secret or twist to it. Childs contributes gorgeous writing that fosters intelligent and imaginative improvisations, and deploys a killing quartet (alto/soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer Eric Harland) and several guests that execute his ideas in straight-ahead postbop style. QED.
The music isn’t exactly basic. “Dance of Shiva” is a jabber of a tune that dares you to follow Wilson’s soprano convolutions without getting lost; it features a long Childs solo that can’t go eight bars without metamorphosing. But it also has a commanding bass hook and thrilling harmonic tension-and-release. The linear melody of the hyperspeed “Rebirth” is less a shape than a chain of long tones—Claudia Acuña’s wordless vocal, doubling with either Wilson or trombonist Ido Meshulam, gives it contour and moody beauty. “Stay,” the album’s one tune with lyrics, sung by Alicia Olatuja, is a tale of love lost that haunts the soul even as it defies expectations in its melody and chord changes.
Still, some of the pleasures of Rebirth do cut to the core. “Backwards Bop” is another complex tune, but a swinger whose gait and accents demand listening with one’s feet. It also boasts joyful solos, including one from Glawischnig that memorably quotes “Four” and a Wilson alto line that scrapes the gutbucket. “The Starry Night” begins with a music-box melody on piano and suddenly bursts into full-band triumph, and a Wilson-Childs duet on Horace Silver’s “Peace” draws its strength from its delicacy. Rebirth is one of the strongest releases of 2017’s first half, without trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s no Citizen Kane, but it’s certainly a Casablanca.