Tony Tixier ‘Life Of Sensitive Creatures’ (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Pianist Tony Tixier has steadily been making measured inroads as a composer and performer over the last few years. This, his most recent release, ‘Life Of Sensitive Creatures’ is Tixier’s fifth as bandleader and here his trio additionally consists of Karl McComas-Reichl on double bass and Tommy Crane on drums, both from the US. Tixier, a classically trained pianists from the age of six who moved to New York City from this home nation of France in 2012, but as of 2017 has settled in Los Angeles, presumably for the variety and availability of opportunities and connections within the region.

With its 11-track count, there are many highlights to ‘Life Of Sensitive Creatures’. ‘Calling Into Question’, a heavenly mixture of soul and funky jazz which on first impression seems to contain an almost pop sensibility, but with further exploration possesses alternating, disjointed and unpredictable accents and time signatures, including 4, 6 and 7s counts. And what’s not to love about that. The trio’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ is not a straightforward jazz cover, but rather is a modern reinterpretation which adds new viewpoints to the 70s classic, with at times a slightly bossa nova feel. ‘Tight Like This’, a frantic Louis Armstrong composition, is a busy, melodic, bass driven composition, containing immaculately precise timings by all band members, including an unexpected head nod section a la Robert Glasper for 4-bars in the final last minute.

‘Causeless Cowards’ contains a relatively complicated arrangement with its zigzagging accents and alternating patterns which keeps the composition fresh and interesting. ‘Darn That Dream’ is a piano centric, downtempo piece containing some light percussive work and fluid bass playing, and is a Jimmy Van Heusen song from early as 1939 and has subsequently been covered by Billie Holiday, Chet Baker and in 1950 by Miles Davis. ‘Denial Of Love’, again contains an exceptional drumming performance by Tommy Crane specifically towards the final few minutes of the piece, where his performance provides intricacy and vibrancy in equal measures. ‘Flow’ is an evenly spread ensemble affair and possibly the most melodically charged composition, well initially, before it transforms into a more loose form, and ‘Home At Last’ is an accessible, pleasant and joyful rhythm & blues swinger, that is as infectious as it is rhythmic.

And although Herbie and Jarrett are stated as being natural influences, sonically and stylistically I could hear inspiration from fellow French pianist Michel Petrucciani, who died in 1999. And I would also align Tixier with contemporary US pianist Vijay Iyer in that they both create quite harmonically complex and rhythmically sophisticated compositions. Tony Tixier’s broad musical vocabulary, impeccable technique and creativeness will undoubtedly lead to greater recognition within jazz circles with this release, but his writing as well as his improvisational work should really be applauded here. This is an album that repeats well, as you will hear new things in subsequent plays due to its numerous layers and complexities. Highly recommended.

Damian Wilkes