The untold positive story in jazz today is that there are still so many young men and women who are incredibly talented jazz musicians and willing to keep this genre alive, and for no other reason than being passionate about this music. One of these who has only in the last few years who has entered the scene is pianist and composer Michael Orenstein.
Already, Orenstein comes as a 2021 graduate (masters) from University of Southern California's prestigious Thornton School of Music, a 2019 finalist for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, and the winner of three compositions awards from Downbeat Magazine, just to name of few of his credentials.
One of the next logical credentials to attain is leading on a record, and in May of 2022, he did that with his debut LP, Aperture. This isn't a record about Orenstein the composer, pianist or bandleader; it's about all of those things. The youthful vitality shows up in the energy and crispness of these sessions, but also the subtlety and maturity of a long-established artist.
Starting with a base trio of Logan Kane on bass and Myles Martin on drums, Orenstein mixes it up by adding a few instruments for most of the numbers. By hearing the leader in all these different contours each lineup brings, we get a fuller picture of all he's capable of, which turns out to be a lot.
The trio tracks in particular are evocative of early Chick Corea, such as the not-slow "Slow Coffee (for Annette)." Orenstein moves through his urbane chord sequence like a prowling panther, while his solo is a natural extension from that and the 4/4 swing the rhythm section breaks out into during the middle of it takes the song to another level. Orenstein puts his own unique twist to a samba for "Ode to Manuel," again demonstrating a knack for blending complex rhythms and complex chord progressions into an embraceable whole.
By the time the first cover "Giant Steps" arrives, Orenstein's crisp, very modern style is apparent and it carries over into the Coltrane classic where the pianist successfully recasts the song into his own image. "Reminder," another trio presentation, puts a spotlight on Orenstein's balladry, which is pretty darn good. With deft touch, Orenstein has a veteran's grasp of playing to accentuate melody, and adding no more than what's needed to do that.
When extra players are added, the threesome swells from a quartet all the way into a seven-piece band, and they are consistently arranged to bolster Orenstein's compositions. Sam Klein-Markman's Kurt Rosenwinkel-like guitar adds a slightly course texture to the smooth and modern melody "Opposite World," and acts as an effectual foil to Orenstein. "Sharing the Mirror" begins as a ballad, accumulating steam up to mid-tempo cadence which is right around the time Sean Harrison's alto sax enters and adds a nice touch of lyricism.
The trio grows all the way to a sextet for "Not Today" with two sax players (Barclay Moffitt, Nicole McCabe) and Chase Jackson's vibes, but Orenstein's phrasing during his solo turn still steals the spotlight. All alone, Kane shows gobs of dexterity to begin "To Come Full Triangle." The song soon builds up to a full septet and Moffitt's tenor sax becomes a second highlight.
"Eye of the One Fingered Sorcerer" is a mid-60's Herbie Hancock two-fer, an "Eye of the Hurricane" and "Sorcerer" mashup, where Jackson, Moffitt and McCabe return to form a tight sextet. Orenstein's take on both of these thorny songs is so funky, helped along by a rhythm section that can chop up the pulse without losing stride.
Michael Orenstein enters the realm of jazz recording artists as a fully formed talent, one with a freshly contemporary and logical extension of the piano greats who've come before him.