When an improvising jazz musician relaxes the reins and lets the music go where it wants, the level of excitement can jump dramatically. Spitfire pianist/composer Brittany Anjou does just that on her new album, Enamiĝo Reciprokataj (pronounced en-äh-mee-joh reh-sih-pro-käh-tye and roughly translated from the Esperanto as either "reciprocal love" or "mutual breakdown"). Throughout the album's 10 original compositions, written across 13 years, you have the sense that she is following the music's lead rather than vice versa, often careering on two wheels at the edge of the cliff, hanging on for dear life and having a blast. The opener, "Starlight," which begins and ends with an electronic wash that reappears at greater length in the album's last track, introduces an artist full of a brisk and bracing confidence and intelligence. The muscular exuberance of "Reciprokataj I: Cyrene," the first of a five-part suite scattered across the album, gives way to the fluid, airy "Snuffaluffaguss," an homage to Ahmad Jamal, before taking a classical turn, complete with eruptions of Romantic pianism, on "Reciprokataj II: Girls Who Play Violin" and "Reciprokataj III: Harfa," a lovely composition with a sonata-esque feel. Separating those two are the episodic "Balliou for Bartok," a burner with an Eastern European flair, and "Hard-Boiled Soup," a swinging tribute to McCoy Tyner. Earworms abound, and there are dancing rhythms everywhere, but even more so on the 5/4 "Reciprokataj IV: Olive You." ("All of You": Anjou is inspired by language, so word play is a given. Indeed, this album is the first of three based on the concepts and structures of world languages, with the next two centered on Dagara and Arabic.) The rhythmic energy is very well supported by Gregory Chudzik (bass) and Nicholas Anderson (drums), who are replaced on one track and joined on another by Ari Folman-Cohen (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums).
A North Dakota native who grew up in Seattle in a musical household, Anjou's wide-ranging musical appetite has taken her to New York, where she studied with Stefon Harris,Tony Moreno, and Sherrie Maricle, as well as Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, to Prague to study classical music with composer Milan Slavický, and to Ghana for an immersion in West African gyil music with master player Bernard Woma and his protegés. She has performed in 13 countries on three continents with a number of ensembles, including the New York Arabic Orchestra, the Shaggs, Bi TYRANT, and the LARCENY Chamber Orchestra (Lethal Activist Revival and Creative Enaction in New York), founding and leading the latter two. What's more, she's taught piano and jazz ensembles in Kuwait as part of a nine-month residency at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center opera house, in an experimental music program, the first of its kind in the country. In short, she is a fearless individual with strong convictions and a passionate need to communicate them, and you can hear all of that in Enamiĝo Reciprokataj.