Chicago pianist Ben Neuman explores the realm of piano trio jazz for his debut release Introductions. A straight-ahead affair with clever re-harmonizations of familiar standards, as well as classics by John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, the young pianist demonstrates an enlivened approach to hard-swinging improvisation. A pair of Chicago stalwarts, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas join Neuman.
Coltrane's challenging "26-2," the disc's opening track, is a bold way to introduce oneself to the listening public. Navigating the tune's winding melody, breakneck tempo and tricky harmonic progression can be a harrowing experience, even for the most veteran musician. Neuman tears through the piece with creativity and technical grace.
The influence of Hancock on Neuman's keyboard approach is evident throughout, especially on "Riot," a classic from the legendary Chicago-native's Speak Like a Child (Blue Note, 1968). Here, Neuman conjures up a rich melodic fervor with floating, over-the-bar-line phrasing. Equally compelling is the only original composition of Neuman's to appear on the disc, "M.J.D," an up-tempo modal workout with flowing thematic ideas and an insatiable, driving groove from Carroll and Fludas.
Fresh interpretations of "You and the Night and the Music," "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "Blame it on My Youth" reveal Neuman to be an inventive, lyrical voice who is mature beyond his years.