Pianist Bill Anschell has carved out a fairly high profile for himself as an accompanist and arranger, most recently on vocalist Jeff Baker's vibrant Monologue (OA2 Records, 2005), and previously with his stint touring and recording as musical director for Nnenna Freelon from 1992-96. With More to the Ear Than Meets the Eye, Anschell steps out as leader on a set that showcases his penchant for forthright lyrical beauty and spontaneous chance-taking that always hits the mark.
The set, a mix of standards and six originals, is performed with two separate rhythm teams: bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop on six of the tunes; and Doug Miller on bass and Jose Martinez on drums on the remaining five. Trumpeter/flugelhornist Thomas Marriot sits in on two and saxophonist Richard Cole sits in on three more, giving the set a mix of trio and quartet lineups.
Miller and Martinez join pianist Anschell on the opener, the classic "Night and Day," engagingly "deranged" by the pianist, with a bunch of loose-limbed trio interplay giving the familiar melody some engaging quirkiness. Anschell's "Bent" follows, with Johnson and Bishop in the rhythm behind Thomas Marriot's tangy muted trumpet on this dark-sounding, foreboding ballad. On "Crazy He Calls Me," the trio of Johnson, Anschell and Bishop sneaks into the melody before they give it a ride and bend it a bit with a smoldering improvisational interlude that pulls the theme back in at all the right moments. The Mandel/Mercer jewel gets a straightforward trio (Miller/Martinez) treatmentógentle, restrained and gorgeous. The Anschell-penned "As the Crow Flies," featuring Richard Cole on soprano sax, is a blue-toned and intense but beautiful and rhythmically challenging tune.
Bill Anschell's finely focused vision and the beauty and depth of his music make for an outstanding set by an undersung jazz artist.