Seattle's eclectic jazz scene has produced a long line of significant voices that have impacted the music on a national and international level. Bill Anschell, as a pianist and composer certainly falls into that category that has produced the likes of Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, and presently, trumpeter Thomas Marriott. His new Origin Records CD Rumbler, represents his ninth album as a leader, and his first featuring original compositions and arrangements since More to the Ear Than Meets the Eye
(Origin, 2006) in 2006.
Built around his long standing trio, featuring bassist Chris Symer, and drummer Jose Martinez, the album also features saxophonists Hans Teuber, Jeff Coffin, and Richard Cole on different tracks, as well as percussionist Jeff Busch, and guitarist Brian Monroney. Eight of the eleven tracks are original compositions, with three covers of compositions by Paul McCartney, Thelonius Monk, and a stunning rendition of an Ellington classic.
Anschell explored the more intimate solo, duo and trio settings in his prior three releases on Origin, with Idaho based saxophonist Brent Jensen on We Couldn't Agree More
(Origin, 2009), Symer and Jensen on Blueprints
(Origin 2012), and his well received solo effort, Figments
(Origin, 2011). One might fear, that after a ten year hiatus from recording his own compositions , an artist may attempt to create a work that attempts to cover every project of their current musical stature, and in doing so, produce a discordant work that portrays no artistic relevance. This is certainly not the case with Rumbler
as Anschell has brilliantly taken a musical snapshot of his forever forward seeking compositional prowess, and his evolving approach as a pianist. The compositions go beyond his previous convention, to create a musical landscape that is both compositionally complex and challenging, yet wide open to improvisational interpretation. "I've written enough conventional tunes," he says. "I don't need to do that anymore. I'm more interested in going beyond the 32-bar form. I like to set up unusual compositional challenges for myself and try to solve them in a way that still allows the band plenty of room for improvisation and interaction."
It is fitting that an album that embraces odd meters, and in terms of tonality, a sonic feel, should open with an interpretation of Thelonius Monks' deceptively simple deconstruction of the blues, "Misterioso." The title itself refers to Monk's reputation as an enigmatic, challenging musician, and so Anschell challenges musicians and listeners alike with this hard edged interpretation, anchored by the the blues drenched guitar work of Monroney. Monroney's work is a bold move forward on this opening salvo, releasing the blues quality of this classic, forming a triad of improvisational prowess together with Anschell and veteran tenor man, Cole.
The Anschell composition "Dark Wind" provides a startling contrast to the opening piece, with the exquisite playing of Teuber setting the mood on alto flute. Anschell's sublime sensitivity, and compositional brilliance is on display here, showcasing his virtuosity often seen on the Seattle and national jazz scenes, as a leader, sideman, and sought after accompanist. Percussionist Busch adds color to this multi cultural landscape providing an inescapable shroud of rhythmic intimacy .
"Captive Light," Anschell's favorite of this collection, features vocal like phrasing in 5/4 time from soloists Anschell and Teuber. Anschell's solo seems to be saying that one can say more with less, an evolution in his playing witnessed by west coast jazz fans over the past decade. His lyrical phrasing carries over seamlessly from his musical persona as a composer, to his established excellence as an improviser. Teuber's tenor saxophone playing speaks to what those intimate with his extensive resume are well acquainted -he is a unique, brilliant and versatile woodwind master on a variety of instruments, under varied musical settings.
Anschell's trio performances tend to bring out the best in his live playing, and here, he sets aside two tracks to feature his long term relationship in the genre with Symer and Martinez, the true axis from which this recording springs forth. The Anschell composition, "No You Go," and the Lennon/ Mc Cartney classic, "For No One," accentuates the comfortable musical conversation between the three, with Anschell's melodic interludes coming across like a composer with amazing chops, and an equally vivid musical imagination. Anschell has brilliantly interpreted The Beatles in past efforts, covering "Fixing a Hole" with the quartet Wellstone Conspiracy on the Origin release, Humble Origins
(Origin, 2010), and John Lennon's anthem, "Across the Universe," on his solo effort, Figments
(Origin, 2011). The trio performs as three musical entities revolving around a common center, with bassist Symer providing a solo that expresses superb interaction with the melodic content of the piece.
The title cut, "Rumbler" portrays Anschell's unique phrasing and voice in concert with the soprano saxophone of Nashville based saxophonist Coffin. I can easily envision this piece getting considerable airplay on jazz radio stations around the globe. Coffin, whose diverse portfolio includes a tenure with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and his current incarnation with the Dave Mathews Band, adds a brilliant lyrical solo that elevates this intricately beautiful composition by Anschell. Anschell's solo on this piece encapsulates an evolution in his playing that has been a pleasure to witness over the years. While he can excite an audience with a lightning quick right hand, and a ferocious Tyner like left , clearly the line has blurred between the soloist and the composer, with less notes supplying a vivid and eclectic narrative, telling us tales never heard before from the veteran pianist. His solos throughout this recording create beautiful melodic content. This could be Anschell's most recognizable melody since his heavenly "Humble Origins," which also was brought to vivid life through a guest soloist in the person of trumpeter Thomas Marriott.
Anschell, a Seattle native, left Seattle for Atlanta in 1989, masters degree in hand, to be Jazz Coordinator for the Southern Arts Federation. There he created the internationally syndicated radio program, JazzSouth, and with his trio performed at the 1996 Olympic games, and toured South America four times. During the early to mid-1990s, Anschell worked with singer Nnenna Freelon as her accompanist, arranger, and music director, contributing to several albums of hers. He brought this diversity of musical and cultural experience back to Seattle in 2002, and has created a musical legacy in his hometown as a pianist, composer, and humorist that has helped to shed light on the whirlwind of musical cross currents that is the Seattle jazz scene.
Fittingly, Anschell closes this superb recording with a solo piece, choosing the under recorded, and under appreciated masterpiece of Duke Ellington, "Reflections in D." I must disclose that I referenced this piece prior to listening, by finding a quiet place, and taking in Ellington's elegant 1953 solo recording of the same, and was taken to a wistful, peaceful place. I then listened to Anschell's interpretation, and found myself in that same serene mind space, of peaceful surrender. It is the perfect canvas for Anschell to portray that beautiful and bold space between compositional brilliance, and inspired improvisational expression. It comes across not as an homage to the American art form of jazz, or to the master Ellington, but to beauty itself, a place in which we all need to dwell.