One-time University of Missouri professor Rich Pellegrin sits down at the piano and builds worlds on his latest album. Exquisite and meditative, "Solitude: Solo Improvisations" (OA2) unites the language of 21st-century jazz and neoclassical music to create something curious and spiritual.
Pellegrin now splits time between two disparate climates — the Seattle area and Gainesville, where he teaches at the University of Florida. Past Pellegrin efforts have taken shape as full-band recordings, amply textured and exhibiting a melodic sense of adventure reminiscent of a Brad Mehldau or Keith Jarrett.
Here, flying solo, Pellegrin presses into another side of his playing. The album "captures the spirit of our age — the abundance of unstructured time, desire to reconnect with the land, and wandering through the wide-open spaces of our minds," Pellegrin's website notes.
To divorce individual moments from the whole feels imprudent. Fragmentary as the album is — by design — Pellegrin creates a musical document that almost begs to be heard in one sitting. Still, individual improvisations deserve their due.
Each instinctive composition is titled simply, numbered in succession; and with a few exceptions, each of these 25 tracks falls between just 1 and 2 1/2 minutes in length.
"Improvisation I" establishes tone and temperament. Pellegrin applies gentle pressure to the keyboard, accessing the pleasant side of longing. The track never stops moving, showing how the pianist follows one note, one feeling after another.
"Improvisation II" begins at the higher end of the instrument's range, imbuing the song with a percussive, dreamlike quality; Pellegrin's playing is both twinkling stars and midnight-black canopy.
"Improvisation III" introduces, if only momentarily, the album's first moments of dissonance while "Improvisation IV" is downright buoyant, something like trilling birdsong.
"Improvisation VII" ends with a gorgeous coda that moves from chord to chord with deliberation born of discovering — and internalizing — the plot as a piece of music evolves.
The longest selection on the album, "Improvisation XI," is worth its 6 and 1/2 minutes. A gliding, planing motion opens the song and Pellegrin sets off a series of small ripples within the greater current. The playing crests and recedes over and again, finding lovely moments of melody and texture as it carries forward.
Elsewhere, "Improvisation XVI" is darker in tone, but follows a similar, undulating sense of motion. "Improvisation XVII" runs less than a minute, but manages to access multiple touchstones and textures.
"Improvisation XXII" starts slowly and softly, then ends with a melancholy tiptoe along the keyboard. "Improvisation XXV" concludes the set on notes of longing and hope.
"Solitude" should absolutely appeal to fans of the vast and varied — yet aesthetically consonant — ECM Records catalog as well as works by pianist Christopher O'Riley. It will move those who stake little claim to jazz, despite being informed by that music's vernacular. The album is genre-less but not formless; inspired and reflexive yet a result of great study and intention.
The album draws listeners into one artist's solitude, then transfers its desire for something more serene and satisfying.