Last year's release found three distinctive voices--Mary Halvorson, Ron Miles, and Greg Saunier--working together to arrange works from mass media. Their collaboration, only a few days in total, culminated in a recording that felt equal parts wild and warm; intimate and revolutionary.
Volume 2 goes in another direction. While the warmth and intimacy is still very present, thanks in large part to the expert sound at Ryan Streber's Oktaven Studios, the experience is one-on-one, as the listener is the recipient of four mini-recitals from four of the most profound interpreters on the piano today: Kris Davis, Matt Mitchell, Aruan Ortiz, and Matthew Shipp.
Each player took on the challenge of suggesting a new direction of expansion for the time-worn concept of the American Songbook. And, while Volume 1 dealt with pop culture, Volume 2 looks more toward the ways in which we build smaller communities. Beginning with Shipp's ecstatic takes on the hymnal and moving directly into the beautiful music from the corners of self-produced singer-songwriters as envisioned by Mitchell, a quick and timbrally rich stop at the music of Carla Bley by Davis, and ending with the forgotten music of Ed Bland as performed by Ortiz.
This LP contains music made by some of the modern masters of the piano. In these performances you can hear what has made each of them a major voice in modern jazz, but there are surprises here, as well, as each player took the opportunity to make a statement that is much more than just another solo performance. The album is about four distinct voices using the conceptual constraints of the project to push themselves to new heights. If you are a fan of solo piano or modern jazz in general, this is a must-have."-American Sound
"Produced by Nate Wooley, New American Songbooks, Volume 2 brings together solo piano tracks from four distinguished modern jazz players, guided by a challenge to use selections that expand the idea of the "American Songbook" canon beyond familiar jazz-standard territory. The album-available on vinyl and as a digital download-begins with Matthew Shipp's take on two hymns, "Let Us Break Bread Together" and "I Need Thee Every Hour," which are stirring renditions delivered with conviction.
Shipp interrupts the "correct" chords of the familiar melody of the former track with bold, non-obvious and sometimes discordant chords, powerfully played with confidence, with commanding left-hand notes that reverberate with an imposing presence. On the latter track, Shipp plows forth with a locomotive momentum, sometimes reducing the rhythm to a continuous stream of eighth notes. Shipp is not an artist you want to follow, and Matt Mitchell's two contributions sound abruptly conventional in comparison; his first is a take on Ryan Power's "Identity Picks," originally a keyboard/vocal smooth jazz track, and his second is a cover of Christopher Weisman's "You Made a Drawing."
While transmuting the lyrical to the instrumental, Mitchell's strength is in his flow, at times creating tender, touching moments; however, in the company of more daring players here, his tracks seem a bit overshadowed. Kris Davis tackles "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" from Carla Bley's Dinner Music, using a John Cage-style prepared piano for a novel and interesting take on a jaunty, big-band number; facsimiles of gong and bell sounds provide a vague East Asian flavor, while Davis' left-hand notes sometimes sound like plucked contrabass strings but with an unusual timbre.
Closing the album is Aruán Ortiz's rendition of the piece "Sketches Set Seven" by the overlooked composer Ed Bland; while the prevailing recording is Althea Waites' scampering, breathtakingly nimble version, Ortiz's interpretation-while not as physically demanding-seems to savor the notes more and brings another dimension to the piece, making it a worthy companion. The predominant feeling of this album is that one should challenge and question everything-not only what should be considered part of the "American Songbook," but also the manner in which one is expected to play it."-Ernie, Paik, Chatanooga Pulse