Most fans of Seattle-based pianist Bill Anschell will not see this one coming. His comfort zone on his own recordings has been as a mainstream acoustic jazz artist, on albums like Shifting Standards (2018), a piano trio affair, Rumbler (2017) and Figments (2011), a solo piano outing. All of these were released on Origin Records.
Anschell, who formerly worked as vocalist Nnenna Freelon's musical director, crafts his recordings with a high polish and does not generally rock the boat on his "mainstream artist" status. Improbable Solutions changes that. A veteran of thirty-plus years in the music business, the pianist can record an album in a half day's studio time. This one, he says, took more than three and a half years. The difference? Electronics.
Improbable Solutions began as one of the increasingly ubiquitous Covid projects. Anschell initially recorded the music himself, on the keyboard, with drums and bass electronically added. A two-day studio session ensued, with Chris Symer and Jose Martinez replacing the leader's electro bass and drum parts with an acoustic take on what Anschell had blueprinted for them, much for the better, according to Anschell, who also replaced some of his keyboard parts with acoustic piano.
That was the foundation. Then Anschell mixed the project, tweaking and spicing and embellishing and adjusting, and inviting in guest artists Brian Monroney to add some guitar parts, Jeff Busch to pump in some percussion and KJ Sawaka to add his drum magic on "Outburst," the disc's closer.
The results of Anschell's "out of his comfort zone" project is gratifying. He uses the electronics deftly, adding washes that sound like cool breezes wafting down the river valley, eerie warblings issuing and invitation to the Twilight Zone, and spare symphonic backdrops that elevate the piano trio segments to perfection.
Improbable Solutions is a terrific set, perhaps Anschell's best outing to date. And if this review's text gives the impression that the pianist went into the studio as a novice in the electronics game and just sort of dashed the sounds off, that would be wrong. On his website, on the bar above the body of the site, the choice of "Electro" is offered, where four of his electronic sets can be found—not proper albums for release, but presented for free, for our enjoyment. Great stuff. Apparently Improbable Solutions does not represent his first electronic rodeo.