Randy Halberstadt, the well-regarded Seattle pianist, composer, bandleader, and longtime faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts, brings us his fifth album as a leader, titled Open Heart. While the cover art effects the typical Seattle winter scene—bareleafed trees and a gloomy atmosphere— this album is anything but grey.
The music unravels pleasurably like a spiraling kite in playful winds. Most of the pieces are original compositions by Halberstadt. His masterful piano playing is the imaginative backbone of each composition, but, rather than dominating each piece, it makes space for the other instrumentalists to shine. The initial piece, "Clandestine," is a trio with Halberstadt on piano, along with Chuck Deardorf on bass and Adam Kessler on drums. It's an upbeat piece with an urban 1960s feel to it, with plenty of space to highlight expressive bass playing and drumming. The following piece, "Still Her," which is dedicated to Halberstadt's wife Chris, has a slower tempo and a dreamier feel to it. Jay Thomas plays the flugelhorn, while Ben Thomas is on vibes, adding both delicacy and understated persistence. The title track, "Open Heart," is a departure from other pieces with its markedly slow tempo, evoking a somber but thoughtful mood, and with Mark's Taylor's alto sax and Deardorf's bass adding to the depth and emotion of this slow-dance kind of piece. "Nocturne in B flat minor," by Chopin, is also a surprise. Halberstadt's cascade of beautiful piano playing rings true to the classical form until partway through where he changes the piece's identity to jazz. "The Man I Love," a Gershwin classic, is nothing like the sultry, strung-out version popularized by Ella Fitzgerald; instead it's a warm-toned, mid-tempo piece that puts to good use the complete band. Dave Marriott Jr.'s trombone is confident but never brash, and the interludes of harmonizing are impressive. This collection is both invigorating and relaxing, full of rich tones, and rewarding to listen to.