Aaron Diehl ‘Space Time Continuum’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

aaron-diehlIn his follow-up to the well received Mack Avenue debut “The Bespoke Man’s Narrative”, pianist/composer Aaron Diehl broadens things out with the addition of saxophones, trumpet and even a vocal outing, adding to his core trio which features David Wong on bass and Quincy Davis on drums. “Space Time Continuum” features eight tunes, all composed by Diehl, encompassing a broad range of styles, never really deviating from the expected path, but performed with skill and precision none the less.
“Uranus” opens the session. A lovely piece that plays to the strengths of the trio and features a particularly nice final chorus highlighting the playing of drummer Quincy Davis. 85 years young Joe Temperley blows his baritone sax on the thoughtful, probing “The Steadfast Titan”. Bowed bass adds the atmosphere as the tune develops a nice cool laid-back vibe. The much younger tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley guests on “Flux Capacitor”. He may be younger in years than the two elder statesmen featured, but in terms of tone, the listener wouldn’t know. The tune itself is something of a throwback to 50’s/60’s era straight ahead jazz and Riley’s playing fits in perfectly. “Organic Consequence” has a film noir feel to it, with some gorgeous, subtle brass supplied by trumpeter Bruce Harris and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson. “It’s important to use both contemporaries and elders as sources of inspiration” comments Diehl. “I gave Mr Golson a solo section with a specific set of chord changes” Diehl continues, “in rehearsal he wasn’t fond of playing the progression and offered constructive criticism that led to our finding an alternative harmonic movement that suited his needs. He taught me the importance of leaning towards people’s strengths.” On “Kat’s Dance”, we have a lighter, more playful tune that could well be a Kenny Barron / Stan Getz duet, easy listening and comfortable as one sips one’s martini. A cinematic intro on Santa Monica” leads into a nice groove which highlights well the rhythm section. Diehl says of drummer Davis; “Quincy is not just a drummer, he’s a consummate musician, great composer and arranger. He does just the right thing to be supportive.” And support he does, along with bassist Wong, especially well on the fine “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, a fast-paced burner of a tune. The album closes with the title track, and features the vocal talents of Charenee Wade. Whilst the tune is nicely written and does offer some variation to the rest of the album, it feels a little out of time and place to this listener.

Listening to Diehl play, the impression I get is that he is a confident, assured and masterful pianist who could turn his hand with ease to any style of his choosing. For me though, this album, as well-played and enjoyable as it is, lacks the imagination and excitement I was hoping for. The compositions are standard fare and I was expecting more. There just feels a lack of warmth, emotion. The album is lovingly packaged with excellent sleeve art, extensive liner notes by Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus) and is beautifully produced by Al Pryor. I’m sure there’s much more to come from the very talented Mr Diehl, personally I hope his next release shows a little more adventure.

Mike Gates