After an anthemic opener resounding with block chords and splintered beats, John Escreet toggles between form and freedom, composition and improvisation on Learn to Live. In doing so, the British-born, Brooklyn-based pianist and keyboardist doesn’t just provide an expansive view of his inside-out interests. Through a prism of jazz improv, fusion, funk, R&B, and synth sounds, he also takes full advantage of a talent pool drawn from two bands, with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and saxophonist Greg Osby contributing ample lyricism and soul.
Four of the album’s highlights benefit from the pairing of drummers Eric Harland and Justin Brown—a strategy that never fails to lift and animate the music. In fact, for the most part, the more rhythmically driven the performances, the better, and that holds true whether or not the drummers are united. Consisting entirely of original tunes, Learn to Live is also distinguished by Escreet’s social awareness, a trait that often imbues his writing with an emotional edge. Sure, some tracks don’t always warrant their extended length; untrimmed, the album’s 10-minute title cut seems better suited to the stage. And no doubt, hearing the pianist interpret a jazz standard in this audacious improv setting would have produced a welcome interlude. But thanks to Escreet’s good fortune (Payton and Osby are in terrific form throughout) and his obvious knack for introducing colorful acoustic/electric jags and juxtapositions—some curious, others playful or jarring—Learn to Live has more than its share of intriguing excursions.