LeeAnn Ledgerwood: Breaking the Waves

On the face of it, Breaking the Waves is a trio recording that derives much of its appeal from the support pianist LeeAnn Ledgerwood receives from bassist Ron McClure and drummer Nasheet Waits. But in a sense, this CD is also something of a one-composer show. It’s entirely devoted to Ledgerwood-penned pieces, and almost all were specifically written for this winter 2011 session.

Sometimes the inspiration for the writing is plain to hear, as when Ledgerwood tips her hat to McCoy Tyner on the album’s resoundingly spiritual coda, “Deep Six.” More often, though, Ledgerwood’s playing offers its own distinctive pleasures, beginning with the undulating title track, an eight-minute opener that shares orchestral colors and dynamic shifts with much of what follows.

In the album’s liner notes, Ledgerwood briefly discusses the key role that improvisation plays when she’s composing. Yet even without such insights, it’s evident that her writing retains a fresh spontaneity and offers unfolding charms. “The University of Free Will,” though composed in the late ’90s, quietly suits the trio’s soulful intimacy, while the remaining tracks find Ledgerwood following her muse down different paths. “Chili’s Walk” is equal parts swagger and swing; “Lutheran for Jesus” comes across as a harmonically tweaked spiritual. And by virtue of its haunting lyricism and trio chemistry, “The Great Smoking Mirror” easily warrants its extended length, right down to orchestral maneuvers that bring the piece to a dramatic close.