With his previous CDs 'Three-Part Odyssey' and 'Episodes IV-VI', American pianist Rich Pellegrin proved to have a lot to offer. 'Down' is the confirmation of all that good. Within the ranks tenor saxophonist Neil Welch and drummer Chris Icasiano, known from Bad Luck.
'Down' starts with 'Trial', a toboggan ride in which both horn players form a hellish energy source after which the pianist directs the turns and loops. Round after round the speed is constantly being increased. In jazz terms: a version of modern urban postbop with especially saxophonist Welch as tastemaker.
The following pieces start each time with a more metered tempo but gradually the dynamic changes and the whole lands in bop mode. Trumpeter R. Scott Morning and Welch contribute the necessary enthusiasm, but bassist Evan Flory-Barnes gets room to expand the basic structure on the same wavelength. Very strong in 'Acceptance' is how all parties gradually come together, floating on a slightly epic undercurrent without everything eventually blowing apart unnecessarily. The fact that Pellegrin played drums and percussion in his early years sparks up subtly here and there in his piano playing. The way he alternately combines rhythm and melody in 'Exile' attests to class.
For the last two compositions the classical Mizzou New Music Ensemble was called upon. In 'Down' (Introduction) it is the strings that completely determine the rubato color, but subsequently ('Down') the tenor slowly gets darker and the layering gradually becomes more complex. All this at a much slower pace than what preceded. A stylized exercise in bringing classical and jazz together without making it sound too cerebral.
Pellegrin supplied all compositions. The two different versions of the title track illustrate the versatility of his work. 'Down' is the proof that jazz in 2019 can sound topical and modern without explicitly leaning on current hypes. A CD that would not look out of place in the ECM catalog.