Keyboardist Sean Michael Giddings cites pianist Vince Guaraldi, the composer of the Charles Schultz Peanuts cartoon soundtracks (among other things), as one of his influences. Guaraldi is joined in that "sphere of influence" club by the usual suspects—Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett—who all play a part in Giddings' sound. But Guaraldi's spirit—the accessible lyricism, the bright, memorable melodies, the sense of fun—seems to loom largest on Giddings debut piano trio outing, Red Willow.
"Opening Scene" opens this set of twelve Giddings-composed tunes. It is a buoyant and fun sound, with a swing (it has got that thing). That gives way to the bright-eyed, calypso-esque "Sebastian"; while we may not know who Sebastian is, if this tune reflects his character, the man (or child) most certainly has life bubbling out of his ears.
"White Claw," in its beginning, with its dull metallic resonance, sounds as though it was recorded in an empty dumpster. Then, about thirty seconds in, someone lifts the lid, allowing the escape of sonic clarity. The tune is dance-inducing, with Giddings using a Whammy Clav (a pairing of words that begs for a Google search, which says a whammy clavinet is a clavinet with a giant castle bar mod attached—it looks sort of like a cross between a gear shift bar without the knob on top and a windshield wiper—that allows the player to make wailing electric guitar-like sounds with the keyboard) nicely done here by Giddings, besides the piano. It is another light-hearted tune which says that Giddings might find some cartoon video soundtrack work of his own.
The trio recorded Red Willow in Giddings' home studio, with Giddings playing the Baldwin baby grand he has played since he was a child— a communion with an old familiar friend. And speaking of friends, "Bonnie"—the name of Giddings' dog, who likes to sleep under his piano as he plays—is something you might catch Snoopy (or Bonnie) dancing to. The disc's title tune plays out as a patiently-delivered ballad, with Giddings displaying a nice Bill Evans- like delicacy of touch.
The set ends with the too-brief "Closing Scene," a soft and introspective reverie to which Giddings adds a translucent wash of deft string programming, wrapping things up with Red Willow's most beautiful moment.
Add to the mix a great cover photo by Taylor Giddings and yet another fine cover design by Origin Records' John Bishop.