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Friday, October 28, 2022

John Escreet - Seismic Shift (Whirlwind, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

I read somewhere recently an enumeration of pianist John Escreet's unique selling points. One placed him the pantheon of modern masters such as Kris Davis, Matthew Shipp, David Virelles, Myra Melford, Marilyn Crispell, and Craig Taborn. That is one hell of a list, and after many listening to the British expat's most recent release, Seismic Shift, I feel there is no reason refute any of it. The album is fantastic outpouring of tough melodic statements and bracing rhythmic drive. Escreet, whose previous work includes forays into fusion, mainstream, modern chamber and avant-garde jazz (check out his 2014 album with Evan Parker, Sound Space and Structures and the follow up live recording The Unknown from 2016) has delivered a solid album that defies easy categorization.

Joined by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Damion Reid, Seismic Shift was recorded in Escreet's new home of Los Angeles. Maybe Seismic Shift refers to the move to a place that lives on the edge of seismic activity, always waiting for the big one, or maybe it refers to the bold, vibrant, and uncompromising rhythms and harmonic movements that the trio creates together. Regardless, from the opening track 'Study No. 1,' all of those adjectives come to play - the piano work is melodic and rambunctious, the bass playing veers kaleidoscopically between punctuating lines and spitfire runs, and the drumming is driving and supportive, both mirroring the intensity and speed of the piano. The power of the track rides on the rich interplay of the three musicians.

The second track is a rendition of pianist Stanley Cowell's 'Equipoise.' Starting off with a pendular swing between two deeply resonating chords, the piece quickly opens up with a gentle, but firm, melodic groove. Revis is up first for a solo, which he delivers with near shadowing the from Reid. Escreet takes over next with a growing cascade of arpeggios and gently angular statements. The next track, 'Outwards and Upwards,' begins with a great you-are-falling-into-a-deep-(and-disturbing)-sleep sequence and continues along a dreamlike stream of discontent, unexpected rhythmic changes and questioning ribbons of notes. It eventually settles into an uneasy gait, and as ungainly as it is, it is hard to turn one's ears away.

The ballad 'Perpetual Love' is a highlight of the recording, starting off patiently mid-tempo, the bass and piano start peeling away layers, exposing a deep, melodic core. Reid's drumming is provocative and pushes Escreet along, until a bare solo from Revis springs out in the middle of the song. This turns into something else entirely as rhythmic figures from the piano and drums begin disrupting and rerouting the musical flow. Interestingly, the title track is less hard hitting as one may anticipate, or at least at first. It is a slow burner that starts darkly, rather abstractly, many musical ellipses between the notes, but its power builds subtly, until Escreet's runs reach a gripping climax. The album wraps with the evocatively titled 'The Water is Tasting Worse,' more than just an aftershock of the main events, Revis and Reid provide a deep, syncopated path for Escreet's accentuated phrases and finally, a melodic and rhythmic softening to wrap up this exhilarating recording.

Working now with some of LA's finest, Escreet has captured the energy that comes from new constellations and compatible collaborators. Seismic Shift lands in a provocative space between modern and avant-garde jazz and documents the start of a new musical adventure for the pianist.