Pianist Ben Paterson might be relatively new to Chicago's jazz scene (he arrived in 2004), but he hasn't wasted any time getting noticed by many of the people in the know around the town. He's played with Chicago's cream of the crop, from blues man Dave Specter, to singer Elaine Dame, to avant-garde cats like Ernest Dawkins. This kid has made his way around the town, so it's about time that he put out a CD.
At first glance, Paterson's debut CD, Breathing Space, had all of the telltale signs of being a Bill Evans' tribute. The Scot LaFaro tune, "Gloria's Step," and two more tunes from the Evans/LaFaro/Motian era, "Nardis" and "Alice in Wonderland," had me wondering what I was in for when I popped this one into the CD player.
What a surprise! They may play tunes lifted from Bill Evans' songbook, but they don't play them like the Bill Evans Trio did. They give these tunes a little, well, breathing space, so to speak; they give these songs new twists to make them all their own, which bodes well for a young pianist making his first CD, and is pleasant on the ears of the listener.
The way Paterson approaches "Whisper Not" is quite interesting. He makes the melody knotty by adding a tag that gives it a whole new attitude. "Nardis" is interesting, mostly because although Paterson's playing definitely echoes Bill Evans' take on "Explorations" (especially on the "A" section), the playing of Vinsel and Deitmeyer do not conjure thoughts of LaFaro and Motian at all. Interestingly, the bridge is swung "hard" giving it a Sonny Clark feel. Once they've made their way into the solo, it builds in some rather interesting ways in some unexpected places. It's definitely a highlight of the disc. One of the most outstanding tunes on the CD, though, is Paterson's original "I Thought You Should Know." A tasty and grooving tune, it's in the pocket and has a familiar, though not derivative, melody.
On first listen, you can hear why so many people on the Chicago jazz scene are singing Paterson's praises. His playing is always where it needs to be: one minute sensitive and relaxed, at another moment, explosive and muscular, and always musical. It's after a couple of listens, though, that this disc starts to really reveal its charms. The flourishes and personal touches that Paterson inserts into all of these tunes make them his, and to do that on such well-traversed tunes as "Whisper Not" and "Alice in Wonderland" is no easy feat.
If Breathing Space is any indication, you will be hearing more from Ben Paterson. I'd suggest picking this one up, so you'll have proof that you knew about him way back when.