Monday, March 12, 2018

Roberta Piket - WEST COAST TRIO

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Since 2010, the gifted New-York based pianist Roberta Piket has recorded twice with various-sized ensembles - Sides, Colors and One for Marian (Thirteenth Note TNR003 and TNR009) -and twice more unaccompanied - Solo and Emanation (Thirteenth Note TNR004 and TNR007). But it's been over a decade since she's recorded in the venerable piano trio format, the format in which her mastery is most evident. And a 2017 California tour provided the opportunity.

"I had played briefly with Joe La Barbera a couple of times." Roberta explains, "when I did some master classes at the California Institute of the Arts. Bill Evans' The Paris Concert [with Marc Johnson and Joe La Barbera] has long been one of my all-time favorite recordings, so I always wanted to play with Joe."

For these sessions Joe recommended bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, who also had accompanied Roberta at Cal Arts. She sent them the music for the sessions, and when she arrived in Los Angeles to rehearse, these meticulous artists were prepped and ready to record. "It was one of the most effortless rehearsals I've ever done, because they were already playing the music great. So it was very easy for me to fall in with them." …

Never having performed with her "West Coast trio" before making this recording, Roberta is justifiably proud of the outcome, and rightly enthralled by the contributions of her colleagues. Roberta comments, "Darek's time feel is beautiful and his solos are extraordinarily melodic and thoughtful. Joe's energy and creativity are boundless, and his instincts are impeccable. He brings out the best playing in everyone. And having Larry join us was the icing on the cake."

And of course, Roberta's own compositions, the tunes she chose and her unique musical perspective on them, her musical imagination and maturity, and most of all, her intention and vision are essential to bringing this exceptional trio recording to sublime fruition.”
- Bob Bernotas, New York, October, 2017

Bob Bernotas is a Jazz journalist-author-historian whom I’ve long respected, so when pianist’s Roberta Piket’s West Coast Trio CD arrived and I read the above comments by Bob in the insert notes - even though Roberta’s music was new to me - I was already predisposed to enjoy the music on the recording. The fact that the rhythm section was comprised of bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and drummer Joe LaBarbera with guitarist Larry Koonse sitting in on two tracks to use Roberta’s terms provided “icing on the cake.”

I also welcomed the fact that Roberta included three songs from the great American Songbook that were familiar to me so I could hear these melodies in my head while listening to the improvisations that Roberta constructed over them.

Falling in Love With Love, My Buddy and Windmills of Your Mind all served as references points or, if you prefer, points of departure that helped me feel more comfortable with her style before taking it on through a listening to her two originals; Mentor and A Bridge to Nowhere; two Jazz standards; George Shearing’s Conception and Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty; Flor de Lis a lovely samba by Brazilian singer-songwriter Djavan, and a work by fellow modern jazz pianist-composer John Hicks entitled Yemenja.

Here’s are some of my observations about Roberta based on my listening to West Coast Trio [13th Note Records TNRO11]:

[1] Roberta’s pianism will definitely move your ears in new directions; you can hear the Jazz tradition influences, but her phrasing and voicing are definitely her own and reflect a lot of study and introspection on her part because she goes where she wants to go in her solos almost effortlessly.

[2] She is really at home in a piano-bass-drums setting; by that I mean Roberta plays well with others, she shares, she interacts, she feeds ideas and plays off the ideas of other members in the group, but because of the sonority of this particular instrumentation she blends and doesn’t have to overplay to be heard.

[3] Thematically, the group creates arrangements for each song that they work off of which lends contrast and heightens interest throughout each performance; it’s not just play the theme, solo and take the tune out.

[4] It’s obvious when you listen through to the end of the recording that a lot of thought has gone into the song selection and the song sequencing because what you get is a sum that’s greater than its parts - it’s a complete, well-thought out journey through the world of Jazz courtesy of the talents and skills of Roberta, Darek, Joe and Larry.

[5] The two tracks that involve Larry avoid the danger of the guitar-piano collision between chording instruments because Roberta and Larry listen to one another instead of competing with each other. Conception was a well-chosen vehicle to demonstrate this musical cooperation because Shearing’s original version featured his quintet with guitarist Chuck Wayne taking the initial solo on the original recording.

[6] But please don’t let all this “thoughtfulness” and “purposefulness” give you the impression that this is some kind of effete, pardon-me-while-I-swing exercise. Roberta and the trio really lay down some swinging Jazz that is as satisfying as it is skillfully rendered.

By way of additional background, according to the media release sent along by Terri Hinte - another of my Jazz heroines for all she’s done for the music over the years - “serendipitously, West Coast Trio's release comes almost 22 years to the day that Piket entered the studio to record her debut album as a leader—1996's Unbroken Line (Criss Cross), primarily a quintet session, with Donny McCaslin, Javon Jackson, and Michael Formanek, among other s— and embarked on a career path now in its third decade.”

Piket's first love and the format that inspired her early love for jazz was the piano trio, and she is at her most relaxed and commanding when she's stretching out with a bassist and drummer—something she demonstrates with authority throughout West Coast Trio. "I definitely feel the most at ease in a trio," Piket confides. "What the trio means to me is intimacy. There's such a directness of communication between the three musicians. It's all about interaction and not knowing what's going to come next. It's the essence of jazz."

"The last few records I've done had more of an agenda with regard to the repertoire," Piket reflects. "On the two solo records I was thinking of ways of challenging myself. I wanted to choose pieces that force me to stretch, not just a bunch of standards. West Coast Trio is the first record in a while where I chose several tunes that are simply fun to blow over. Our only agenda was to make some beautiful music."

Born in Queens, New York in 1965, Roberta Piket inherited a passion for music from both of her parents. Her father was the Austrian composer Frederick Piket, who made significant contributions to both the musical liturgy of Reform Judaism and the concert ha!!. Her mother, Cynthia, introduced her to the treasures of the Great American Songbook, and she learned by ear the tunes of Porter, Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, and Berlin.
Piket enrolled in the joint five-year double-degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory, graduating with a degree in computer science from the former and in jazz piano from the latter.

After a year as a software engineer, she realized that her calling was music and returned to New York, where an NEA grant set her up to study with pianist Richie Beirach. Piket made her recording debut on an album by jazz legend Lionel Hampton and gained invaluable experience during the formative years of her career performing as a side-woman with David Liebman, Rufus Reid, Mickey Roker, Benny Golson, and Ted Curson.

She performs regularly with the Scott Reeves/Jay Brandford Tentet and the Virginia Mayhew Quartet, in duo with Mayhew, and with Mintz's quintet/quartet with saxophonists Tony Malaby and John Gross, and bassist Hilliard Greene (with whom she also plays in his In & Out Ensemble) as well as focusing on solo piano performance.”

Roberta Piket will perform with her trio—bassist Harvie S and drummer Billy Mintz—at Mezzrow, NYC, on Thursday 4/19.

She'll also be appearing at Maureen's Jazz Cellar, Nyack, NY, on Saturday 4/21.   
Roberta Piket: West Coast Trio [13th Note Records TNRO 11]
(Thirteenth Note Records) Street Date: April 6, 2018

Media Contact: Terri Hinte 510-234-8781

The following video features Roberta and the group on Shearing’s timeless classic Conception.

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