I just don't think Lynne Arriale gets nearly the attention she should given her long-standing career leading piano trios (with Jay Anderson, bass, and Steve Davis, drums) and lately with a trio plus trumpet (Randy Brecker) or saxophone (Bill McHenry). Not to mention her glowing blue eyes and beautiful red hair which captivate a room, not to mention captivating this writer on the one occassion that I actually met her. In March, she will have her first solo recording, on the Motema label.
From her biography on her website: Lynne’s affinity for music and specifically the piano was evident early on, but well outside a jazz context. Arriale grew up in Milwaukee, and discovered the keyboard at age 3 when given a plastic toy piano, and “never stopped.” She studied classical music, earning a master’s degree before turning to jazz. “I may have heard an hour of it before that, and I didn’t get it,” she recently told Jazz Times. “But I didn’t know it was improvised music. I didn’t have a clue.” She won the 1993 Great American Piano Competition, and launched her long-term touring and recording collaboration with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis.
Before her new solo disc hits the streets this spring on the Motema label, a short tour through her discography is in order.
Long Road Home
TCB Records 1997
This was actually her fourth release, following three on the hard to find DMP label. In this early recording, she clearly demonstrates a couple of things: she has a feel for expression and reharmonization and creativity, particularly in the ballads, and a lovely sense of melody and interplay with her bass and drum partners. And second, she already shows a flair for writing, with her songs "Will O' the Wisp" and "The Dove". She was clearly a fresh, new voice on the scene.
TCB Records 1999
Throughout her discography, the term melody is probably the singlemost thread tying all of Arriale's work together, whether it is a melody she is intrepreting or one she has written. The title here is an expression of the player, who consistently finds the melody but surprises us with her range of expression, her free improvisations and reharmonizations, and overarching it all, a beautiful touch and oneness with the keyboard that brings our the emotional content of the music. Already an exquisite player, here she clearly expresses her feeling of freedom at the keyboard with her interpretation of a classic like "It Ain't Necessarily So" and her own "Forgotten Ones."
Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival
TCB Records 2000
This is a great listen, with the energy of a live performance pushing the trio into more expressive and energetic play than even on the recordings. There are two marvelous originals by Arriale -- "With Words Unspoken and Calypso" -- and some Monk, Miles Davis, and other standards. All in all a nice recording that raises the bar once more for Arriale.
TCB Records 2002
I suppose it gets tiring to hear me speak highly of each recording, but in truth each is a pleasure to hear. But with this disc, I feel a real step up in the emotional playing and expression of sheer joy from Arriale, as well as a new found pleasure in reworking and re-energizing some standards. The disc jumps right in with an amazing take on "America" from West Side Story, a recording of great eneregy and appeal. But of all Arriale's songs and interpretations, both before and after this disc, it is "Mountain of the Night" by Abdullah Ibrahim that gets me every time. To me this is the culmination of Arriales's spirit captured in a moving ballad, with an emotional range and expressive play that captures everything I feel about her music. It has movement, emotion, energy, spirit, and passion, and lifts the heart each time it is played.
TCB Records 2003
Arrials continues her growth, extending her interpretations further, and playing more impressionistically during her improvised passages. Too, she returns here to a mix of covers and her own compositions, with "Arise", a beautiful ballad, and the lively "Esperanza" among them. "American Woman", a 60s rock song from the Guess Who, is played smartly as a blues. She demonstrates a more bluesy interpretation of some of the other selections as well and a freer hand that captivates as her expressiveness grows and changes with each song.
Arriale wrote six of the nine pieces on this disc, which makes it even more reflective of her feelings, expressiveness, and direction as a pianist. And the three covers are great -- "Come Together", "Iko Iko", and "Red is the Rose" -- with Arriale creating interpretations that effectively make them hers as a jazz pianist, setting a high bar for others who wish to follow. And her originals merge her jazz sensibilities with her clasical training, so that some are burners like "Sunburst" and others contemplative pieces like "Twilight." He ballads are wonderfully painted and relaxed, and the whole set is another step up in expressive piano trio play.
Motema Records 2006
Live is her first disc on Motema and second live from Montreux, and it brings together the great combination of songs from the past several discs and the energy and trio interplay best heard live, and in this case seen live on an accompanying DVD. The disc has some highlight moments, including "Mountains of the Night", "Iko Iko" and "Come Together", but the whole disc swings, particularly the closing "Bemsha Swing". Uplifting music that brings out the best of the group's interplay and creativity. For the first time, one gets to watch Arriale's nimble fingers and use of the entire keyboard, and the expression and energy she puts into every note she plays. Melodies dominate, but their interpretations are glorious in extended versions of the songs, especially the eleven plus minutes of "Mountains of the Night." Simply the best of the best to this listener.
Nuance: The Bennett Studio Sessions
Now the truth -- I prefer Arriale in a trio setting, and probably in a solo setting when that comes out. I enjoy hearing her out front interpreting the music, twisting the melodies and harmonizations and pulling out new impressions and expressions of standards and her own songs.
But I also know that artists need to expand, to try new ways of expression, and in that respect not become stale by only playing in one mode. So just as Oscar did, or Bill, or all the greats, Lynne here has made some changes, most notably bringing in Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn. She also has a new bass, veteran George Mraz and drummer Antony Pincotti. To me this is an okay recording, very nice melodies, split six for Arriale and five from others, and some nice interplay between the two melodic instruments, at times seeming to push each other to extra heights of expression and interpretation. But to this listener, the brassy trumpet is not a warm enough instrument to blend well in this setting with these expressive songs; the flugelhorn, when used, is a better choice. There is a good deal of melodic invention and great range of expression among the songs, and clearly some stretching out in less constrained patterns, but overall it does not reach out to me the way her previous trio work does.
While also not a trio recording, Convergence catches me much more in its blending of sounds, pushing outward with the use of some interesting accents placed by Omer Avital on bass, and possibly him on the oud (unidentified oud player), and by drummer Pincotti, along with the lovely round tenor voice of Bill McHenry. The "Dance of the Rain" is an exceptionally interesting piece from Arriale, and a demonstration of the wider and wider net she is casting out in the world for the music she is writing. Arriale's play on Sting's "Sister Moon" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun' are lots of fun, but the outstanding interpretation is "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones, a jagged, energetic romp. A little blues ("Element"), a little rock, some original ballads, an Irish jig ("Convergence"), are all handled nimbly by a master pianist and her band.
In summary, nine recordings since 1997, many of them outstanding, from a singular interpreter and music writer, and I still think that Lynne Arriale is sadly unknown by many jazz listeners. Her choices, her interpretations, and her bandmates are superb, and her sense of melody and and her clasical training keep within the so called "box" for the less adventerous, while establishing her as an original for those looking for something new. When the names Mehldau, Corea, Jarrett, et al are bandied about, Arriale should be bandied about with them. Listen and love!