Jazz musicians are mathematicians, carpenters, athletes. With absurd devotion they hone their minds and muscles in ceaseless work, just so that at the end of the ledger the balance reaches zero, so every corner dovetails into a standing cabinet, so the javelin might reach a few inches further. If you need an answer to why jazz musicians work so hard, all the time, the latest release of pianist Bill Anschell has it. Shifting Standards, recorded with heavyweights Jeff Johnson (bass) and D'Vonne Lewis (drums), represents an incredible craftsmanship of rhythm and harmony, body and soul.
Standards superficially does not stand out for originality, being a bag of standards the long-practiced band recorded with close detail by producer Reed Ruddy a single afternoon in a single room within Avast Studios. Yet precisely from the formula of limitations does the jazz musician derive the beauty of originality. As the title suggests, Anschell's approach stands out for its rhythmic intricacy, more a re- than a dis-placement of melody on the circle of time. Thus he smartly Möbius-strips the descending thirds of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" or the repeating triplets of "You and the Night and the Music" into one another. Yet Anschell's harmonic depth, as on the ballad "Some Other Time," is heartbreaking, and counterpoint, as on "Con Alma," stunning - as much Bill Evans as Bud Powell.
Leave it to the likes of Industrial Revelation's D'Vonne Lewis to put time on the out-of-time. Varied but never messy, sharp and sweet when he's not lingering like a fond memory, Lewis makes the perfect intellectual match for Anschell. Just listen to his triplet breaks and wild subdivisions on Anschell's skewed "Night in Tunisia." With his exacting grip on the melody, natural phrasing, and bluesy guts, Johnson fits like a third hand to the pianist, giving a serene solo on "Soul Eyes." Their collective interplay, to say the least, nears psychic in its shape and timing.
Anschell's rhythmic shifting recalls another pianist, Erroll Garner. Garner's sense of subdivision made him a rhythmic ancestor to R&B crooners like Frank Ocean, just as Thelonious Monk felt a pulse later capitalized by hip hop. Jazz evinces rhythmic truths at the heart of many musics, and the classic recordings preserve the mosaic of layers that make such facts audible. Now, Anchell's Shifting Standards is one of them.