Pianist and composer Rich Pellegrin is a somewhat musically elusive figure. During an initial listen to his new album, Episodes IV-VI, I found myself rummaging for reference points, trying to get a handle on how to describe and process his strikingly original music. Episodes IV-VI can be described with the increasingly ineffective label of "jazz," yet it contains very few of the typical elements by which the term is usually defined and negotiated. Pellegrin throws his hand in with a new generation of composers drawing from paths of inspiration far from bluesy cliches and the well-trod confines of Tin Pan Alley.
Methodically conceptual but with a spiritual urgency, Episodes IV-VI patiently explores trance-state blocks of harmony and melody as Pellegrin structures his themes to slowly unfold and develop, pedaling and chiming piano tones with shifting textures below, almost like an inverted drone.
A collective sound and spirit permeates the proceedings, with Pellegrin himself acting as the ensemble bedrock, almost a harmonic percussionist, freeing up exploratory roles and turning over much of the solo space to his stellar ensemble: the tandem of Neil Welch on tenor sax and R. Scott Morning on trumpet, with bracing highlights from bassist Evan Flory-Barnes and telepathic punctuation from drummer Chris Icasiano. The band fully inhabits these tunes -- phenomenally sensitive and expressive yet contained, never subverting the unity of group structure and Pellegrin's concept.
Compositionally, the album is very much a suite, something akin to observing the same monument from a variety of angles. Pellegrin is clearly an artist to watch, and we can all look forward to seeing where his journey leads next.