I'm a Bill Evans type of listener. For me, a musician's touch says more than a fantastic cavalcade of impressive, overly complicated notes, impossibly juxtaposed against a harried orchestra of one. If you can make me feel down to my bones, you've got me.
Seattle's beloved jazz pianist Bill Anschell is cool, because he can do both: move and impress, touch and flash, tone and stack — often on a forgettable, throwaway standard everybody else has done to death. He's been prolific of late, putting out quality albums, back to back, first with the elaborate, experimental 11-track Rumbler, then an altogether different Shifting Standards a few weeks ago. Anschell dropped Rumbler on Origin last year, featuring a lot of local musicians, including guitarist Brian Monroney, bassist Chris Symer, drummers Jose Martinez and Jeff Busch, and tenor saxophonist Rich Cole, along with quite a number of original compositions. The expansive tracks required "two full of days of recording" and plenty of honing.
"That one involved quite a bit of rehearsal; this one involved none," Anschell explained in a mass email sent May 25. "That one used seven musicians; this one is strictly trio. That one entailed two full days of recording; this one took just four and a half hours. That one had us recording in separate booths so we could fix mistakes and replay parts; for this one we set up close together and fixed nothing..."
Shifting Standards (Origin Records) may have been recorded more on the fly, but I could hardly tell. Anschell melds into one, awesome jazz trio with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer D'Vonne Lewis.
Both Rumbler and Shifting Standards hover over familiar human territory - bone-dry solitude, restless reflection, deep and pure connection, a mixture of hidden emotion and stimulating reverie - revitalized into music that refuses to fall in line... music that more likely reverses course and shifts into different gear.
Anschell and his people have an admirable knack of controlling and channeling chaos in the right direction, taking an evocative theme - even in a handful of notes - and taking off in the most unexpected manner.
All without losing that sculpted, erudite feel.
If anything, Anschell and his longtime standards trio play with a freedom greater than Rumbler's two-day focus. "Jeff, D'Vonne and I have always tried to play as spontaneously as possible, using the standards more as a launching point than as a fixed idea," Anschell continued. "The way we recorded this — set up just feet apart, with no fixes — was meant to recreate the way we perform. And, much as it pains me to say something nice about myself, I think we succeeded."
For the new listener, there are no interludes, not even in the ballads. There's no waiting around for the hits, the action, the frenetic movement of a jazz promised land, because every note is singularly wonderful, hitting all the soft spots of a weary heart and frazzled nerves.
Bill Evans on a jazz bender, high off his second chance, if you will.
"Some Other Time" appeals to that sense of touch, where every single note means the world, way beyond small talk into what makes us sing inside. It's careful and bittersweet the way the carefree party girl, "A Night In Tunisia," is not. Featuring Anschell doing what he does best, wearing his heart on his sleeve, the Leonard Bernstein cover feels like a warmly lit goodbye; it feels like love and friendship, truth and dignity. I imagine hearing this version of "Some Other Time" for many more goodbyes to come, until the day I die.
In stops and starts, "A Night In Tunisia" celebrates a memorable melodic ditty almost to excess, skimming the surface, stumbling in the dark, ready for lift-off.
Anschell opens "You And The Night and the Music" in a kind of vague, Joni Mitchell haze. He falls into a more straightforward Burt Bacharach style, swirling significantly around what's left of the melody before bassist Johnson discontinues the momentum, plucking luxurious scents on knotty, undulating wood.
Anschell conflates the gently rolling standard, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," into this tangled, lovely lyrical mess as only he can. His trio naturally goes from that Bill Evans one-note-at-a-time feel, to a torrent of mixed messages, tension, octave, and chord manipulation — strewn about, like strange lovers laying in a heap.
It's the same on "Cheek to Cheek," as all three musicians rip through the standard melody in the fabric of time, veering elaborately off-course, attacking the very act of the brainstorm with gusto. Check out Lewis' gut-busting drum solo, a grandiose, righteous exhibit of exuberant extroversion.
Spontaneous, real time suits Bill Anschell's Shifting Standards Trio. The Trio plays with purpose, fun, and an end game in mind. These musicians get down to the business of disrupting nine comfortable standards, and for them, business is damned good.
My friend Sarah put it best when she dropped by and heard the album: "The music is relaxing and exciting at the same time."