Stanley Cowell : It’s Time

Prior to 2010’s Prayer for Peace, 71-year-old Stanley Cowell had focused on his teaching career at Rutgers and had taken a sabbatical from recording for well over a decade. It’s Time is another reminder of the imaginative versatility we’d been missing in his absence. He varies the style between tracks considerably, flitting from Eastern-themed meditations to angular pressure-cookers to dirge-like reflections on the civil rights movement.

Cowell informally divides the album into suites covering three themes: Asian art, the spirit of civil rights protest and progressive originals. The remaining music has a certain disjunctive quality, but Cowell’s insistent virtuosity and overwhelming musical ideas allow for departure from any overarching concept. He performs with two former students, Tom DiCarlo on bass and Chris Brown on drums, and the result is an intergenerational outing of the highest order; Cowell never seems out of touch.

The ethereal “Glass Ball & Couch Bed” finds its muse in a courtesan’s couch at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This transitions into the more riotous “Brawl Inducer,” an angular piece with a percussive style that Cowell claims once precipitated an altercation at a club. “I Never Dreamed” showcases the master in full blush, though its subtlety and restraint make for a gorgeous work for solo piano. The fast-paced title track serves as a testament to the value of teaching for keeping the mind sharp.