There's a fascinating disjunction shaping the work of pianist Brittany Anjou. In one bend of being, her endeavors reflect extreme faith in the concept of catholicity. As a student of Esperanto—the "universal language" devised by Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof in the late 19th century—and a musician warmly embracing an ecumenical approach, open lines and the ability to connect clearly play as prime factors in her art. But in an opposing arc there comes an air of mystery, a taste of aural arcana, both in her flights and advances. Anjou may conjure thoughts of far-ranging icons and/or influences through the keys—touchstones McCoy Tyner and Ahmad Jamal, teacher-mentors Don Friedman and Jason Moran, groundbreaking neo-classicist composer Béla Bartók, West African gyil guru Bernard Woma—but her sound is all her own.
The title of this mind-bending debut date—representative of the words "enamor, enigma, and reciprocity," and literally translated (from Esperanto to English) as "reciprocal love"—offers different layers of suggestion, playing to awe, personal expression, and human connection all at once. "Starlight," the first number on this all-original effort, underscores that three-pronged concept in its brief lifespan: the trippy bookends, a lovably quirky core, and simpatico sensibilities demonstrated by Anjou and her trio mates—bassist Gregory Chudzik and drummer Nicholas Anderson—are perfectly aligned with the album's thematic tenets.
The Reciprokata Suite—a multi-movement work spread out across the playlist—rightly captures a fair amount of the attention here. The first part—"Cyrene (Flight Of The Butterfly)"—presents knotty and knuckled brambles of melody at its outset and completion, capturing higher times in between. It makes for a fascinating listen, but it pales in comparison to much of what follows. The remainder of the suite—Anjou's odyssey of the mind, in truth—proves to be a journey allowing us to observe where waking wanderings and vivid dreams intersect. "Girls Who Play Violin" offers a looser alternative to the opening movement, with free flowing shapes, well-timed semi-caesuras, soft-focus sonics, and elegiac arco work; "Harfa" instantly downgrades itself from a formal height to comfortable confines, clearing space for Anjou to stretch with a signature blend of block chords, ruminative thoughts, and mischievous play; and "Olive You" operates with a cool and carefree attitude for long stretches, though two descents into madness, along with a multihued farewell, seriously deepen and broaden the picture.
Enamiĝo Reciprokataj's closing diptych—the suite-sealing "Flowery Distress" and the psychotropic "Reciproka Elektra"—prove notable for their casting alterations among other things, bringing bassist Ari Folman-Cohen and drummer Ben Perowsky into play. But Anjou's personality, strong and mercurial as it is, continues to serve as the dominant force. Her gifts as a bricolage artist and original thinker remain in the foreground regardless of who's on board to help her flesh things out. While we've barely opened the door to 2019, we already have a serious contender for the year's strongest debut here.