Jamie Reynolds: Grey Mirror
Fresh Sound New Talent

Jamie Reynolds could have followed the customary piano trio path on his third album Grey Mirror, but instead of presenting a familiar blend of originals and standards the Canadian-born, NYC-based pianist has done something far more daring. Yes, trio performances do appear among the fourteen pieces but along with them five mirror-like versions by the fabulous brass quartet The Westerlies; mixing things up further, the pianist brought guitarist Matt Stevens on board for a number of tracks and expanded on the album's keyboard dimension by adding Wurlitzer 200A to the mix. Far from diluting the album, all such moves markedly strengthen it.

Instead of a track by The Westerlies being immediately followed by Reynolds' own treatment, they're displaced from one another in the sequencing, which adds to the unpredictable character of the recording, and the brass quartet doesn't replicate the mood of the pianist's version either, even if the composition sustains its identity across both treatments. Bolstering that sense of unpredictability, Grey Mirror ranges broadly, stylistically speaking, in the trio and quartet performances, with the listener never quite knowing what the next piece might bring.

After The Westerlies inaugurates the album with an evocative rendering of “The Earliest Ending,” the Stevens-augmented trio digs into “Sleep,” an inventive exercise in forward momentum powered by the leader's insistent chords and the guitarist's bold textures. Stevens factors significantly on the four tracks on which he appears, his searing attack intensifying the heat of the muscular stormer “Small Worlds” and the fiery set-closer “The Earliest Ending.” For their part, The Westerlies enhance the project by bringing their customary grace and fine-tuned elegance to all five of their brass chorale performances.

A healthy dose of R&B flavour seeps into “Good Help,” where warm Wurlitzer playing's nicely complemented by Orlando LeFleming's assertive acoustic bass and Eric Doob's driving swing. Here and elsewhere, the electric piano gives the album a cool vibe that draws a connecting line to everything from ‘70s smooth jazz and The Crusaders to Deodato and CTI Records. The title track at first sounds like Reynolds and company tackling “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” what with its Steve Gadd-like drum pattern and a melodic progression vaguely reminiscent of the Paul Simon tune. But the Stevens-enhanced quartet quickly makes the material its own by delivering a breezily swinging cut sweetened with soulful solo turns by the guitarist and the leader on Wurlitzer.

More surprises follow: “Green-wood” introduces an experimental-electronic dimension when Reynolds layers patterns to produce an ambient effect and adds swirls presumably generated from the piano's insides, and shifts his gaze to Satie for the wistful solo reverie “Lake Cycle.” In a final surprise, “The Earliest Ending” escalates from its ballad-styled beginnings into a Stevens-stoked rouser whose roar calls to mind Coldplay and U2 at their most anthemic. At a compositional level, Reynolds impresses throughout with the range and imagination of his writing, which the musicians do justice to with consistently strong playing. Even with so much variety in play, Grey Mirror not only holds together but better yet holds up terrifically.

August 2017