California-based pianist Michael Orenstein's debut album, Aperture, consists almost entirely of his original compositions, performed by a core trio of Orenstein; bassist Logan Kane and drummer Myles Martin with guest artists on half of the studio session's ten numbers. Even though those visitors make a strong impact, it is Orenstein's eloquent voice which speaks loudest and most decisively, making each number a touch higher and more engaging than it otherwise might have been.
Kane and Martin, however, readily pull their weight, as do tenor saxophonist Barclay Moffitt and vibraphonist Chase Jackson (four numbers each), guitarist Sam Klein-Markman, alto or soprano saxophonist Sean Harrison (three) and alto saxophonist Nicole McCabe (two). Even so, it is Orenstein's sharp and resourceful solos which carry the day and earn the blue ribbon. While the leader's compositions are by-and-large more likeable than inventive, he compensates by changing the size and make-up of the ensemble, using the guitar, vibes and saxophones to good effect while sustaining the listener's interest with congenial melodies and refreshing changes of pace.
Harrison's soprano is especially impressive on the charming "21 Rabid Realtors," and he fashions brisk alto solos on "Sharing the Mirror" and the pulsating finale, "To Come Full Triangle." Jackson shines there too, as he does on "Not Today," "Rabid Realtors" and the medley "Eye of the Hurricane/The Sorcerer," written by Herbie Hancock. Moffitt's nimble tenor enhances "Not Today," "Sharing the Mirror," "Hurricane" and "Full Triangle," Klein-Markman's gentle guitar the last two and the lyrical opener, "Opposite World." The trio takes it from there, staking out four of Orenstein's themes and John Coltrane's well-known "Giant Steps."
Orenstein worked hard to make his first album sparkle, and it shows. The musical expertise and interplay are first-class, and there is a full measure of pleasing music from start to finish.