Denver-based pianist Ben Markley, winner of the 2007 ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award, is a well-studied musician whose achievements thus far demonstrate a willingness to stand apart from the multitude of talented young artists graduating from music colleges across the country.
Second Introduction is Markley's second recording as a leader with rhythm section pals Evan Gregor (bass) and Jordan Perlson (drums). Added to the front-line of the quintet are top-notch soloists Greg Gisbert (trumpet) and Jim Pisano (tenor saxophone). With the exception of one standard, "But Beautiful," the disc is comprised of Markley's original compositions, steeped in the hard bop tradition with hints of modernity.
Markley's tunes are playful and swinging, full of matter-of-fact phrasing and sound harmonic progressions. These characteristics are probably best exemplified in "One for Cedar," presumably dedicated to pianist Cedar Walton?a medium-tempo swinger with enough open landscape to allow each soloist the opportunity to stretch out over a lush chordal framework. Hints of Horace Silver can be heard on the spiced-up blues "The 9th One's Free." Here Markley demonstrates a thorough understanding of bebop influenced piano playing. The lyricism of "As it Comes" is spirited and optimistic in nature, with a groove reminiscent of pianist Ahmad Jamal's classic recording of "Poinciana."
Gisbert and Pisano contribute hard-driving solos throughout, both leaning towards an aggressive approach with dazzling technique and soulful ideas. The improvised twists and turns demonstrated by the two on the closer "Two to Go" are succinct, energetic statements.
All in all, Second Introduction is a recording laden with clever musicality, at once focused and spontaneous.