Pianist James Weidman calls his new album Three Worlds in reference to the variety of contexts brought together on the disc-a quintet with trombonist Ray Anderson and clarinetist/alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich on the frontline, a mellower quartet with vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, and a few offerings from the pared-down piano-trio format. At the core of all the groupings is the confident rhythm section of organic-feeling drummer Francisco Mela and bassist Brad Jones. But the album title could also allude to a plurality of stylistic approaches and vibes, from just-left-of-mainstream musings to risk-taking collective improvisation and even soft-edged ballad turf.
After commencing with quartet tracks-a rough-hewn variation on the classic jazz quintet format, with Anderson’s signature style on trombone replacing standard trumpet-things go decidedly “out” on “Razz 2.0,” where a collective free zone evolves into breakneck calypso rhythm. By contrast, on the next track, “Questful,” Hoggard enters the disc on a lyrical, balladic note. “Our January” evolves from an open-ended intro to an odd-time modal ostinato, further expanding the range of attitudes contended with on Three Worlds.
As a player, Weidman puts out a rugged, fine sound. He’s blessed with understatement and creative searching, and a raw expressivity in an era teeming with virtuoso players who run hot and cold. Weidman has something to say, and something worth hearing, as pianist and conceptualist, whatever musical “world” he’s working in.