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David Chesky Jazz in the New Harmonic: Primal Scream

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Pianist David Chesky is hardly unique in his embrace of both classical music and jazz, nor is his stated mission-to use “harmonic language … from the Messiaen, Webern, and Ives school” to challenge his bandsmen with “chords that they don’t usually hear in jazz”-unheard-of. (Mingus, to cite just one example, covered similar territory decades ago.) Nonetheless, the music Chesky and his compatriots (reedist Javon Jackson, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Billy Drummond) offer up bristles with inspiration.

Like Miles’ Kind of Blue, most of what’s here exudes a dreamlike, meditative feel so seductive that the subversive undercurrent flowing through it can easily be missed. One key is the interplay between Chesky’s edgy melodic conceits-usually expressed dually between sax and trumpet, with one instrument biting off crisply articulated short-note phrases, the other overlaying those phrases with longer, more flowing lines-and Washington and Drummond’s groove-centered rhythms. On several of these outings, Washington lays down a one-chord, almost pedal-point foundation (more echoes of Mingus), prodded by Drummond’s understated, occasionally borderline-funk impetus.

Jackson’s solos are masterworks of unforced virtuosity. Pelt, his Miles-ian heritage front and center, articulates crisply even as he unfurls relaxed lines, either muted or in a soft-edged, rounded timbre; on a ballad like “Isolation” or “Quiet Desperation,” he shows a remarkable ability to sound starkly alone, even when surrounded by accompanists. Chesky’s own solos, similarly understated, are nonetheless charged with brilliance by his treble stabs, splays and scurries. Despite the harmonic adventurousness on display and the meandering languor of the melody lines, that steady-strolling groove and the overall lack of pretension and unnecessary flamboyance keep things centered, resulting in music that suggests an almost Zen-like contemplation on the dialectic between control and freedom.

Originally Published