Melbourne-raised, New York-based pianist/composer Ben Winkelman, an adept of the trio format, odd meters, and Latin scents, teams up for the first time with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire on his fifth album as a leader.
Balancing composition and improvisation, he crosses the lines between Latin, jazz, and classical, bestowing a distinct feel to each of the 10 tunes that compose the album, which appropriately got the title Balance.
"BX 12" opens and closes the recording in differentiable ways. Whereas part one advocates an elastic post-bop with precise rhythmic punches, some classical innuendo, and invigorating Afro-Cuban enchantment during a rich coda, the second part conjures up a pronouncedly Latin spirit, brought under the wings of Penman and Calvaire. Both versions boast odd meters.
"Wheels" feels humorous and inquisitive, swinging happily and unreservedly after a theme garnished with elements of gospel. With the eloquence of the bandleader occupying the first half of the tune, the second half displays Penman plucking and sliding the bass strings with grace before the theme is rebuilt.
If the explorations of "Santiago" and "Fala Baixiño", both melancholic waltzing rides, were not so attractive to me, then "Merri Creek" returns to those demanding yet spot-on rhythmic hooks. Here, the fine blend of classical and Afro-Cuban influence is mirrored in Winkelman's improvisation, which also encapsulates a lot of jazz trait. Calvaire finds space for a brief workout that anticipates a classical-motivated passage.
Also flowing under odd tempos, "Window Shopping" shimmers with tenaciously folkloric elements from Latin America, becoming predominantly Afro-Cuban in its sensual last part. In contrast with this mood, "Bye-Ya", a Thelonious Monk classic, is addressed with some interesting details within a jazz context. It is the sole non-original to appear on the album.
Winkelman puts on show a well-rounded set of fairly accessible music, even when emotions get a bit obfuscated by the technique. Without exceeding expectations, Balance should find its niche in eclectic jazz circles.