Label: BRM Records, 2018
Personnel – John Escreet: piano, Prophet 6 synth, Fender Rhodes; Greg Osby: alto saxophone; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Matt Brewer: bass; Eric Harland: drums; Justin Brown: drums.
Innovative keyboardist/composer John Escreet deserves accolade for his new outing, Learn To Live, a set of ten magnificent originals shaped with eclectic gusto, electronic/acoustic genius, and an in-your-face contemporary vibe. His supergroup includes bassist Matt Brewer and drummers Eric Harland and Justin Brown (playing together on four tracks), with whom he forms a highly responsive rhythm section, and a colossal frontline with Greg Osby on alto saxophone and Nicholas Payton on trumpet.
The first track, precisely entitled “Opening”, is a horn-free synth-based art-rock piece that made me think of progressive bands like Yes, Genesis and Soft Machine. With the soulful keyboardist rocking hard like a guitarist, the tune has a meteoric rise in intensity, culminating in an energetic vamp.
Atmospheric dissonances soar on “Broken Justice (Kalief)” at the same time that Harland and Brown push the envelope of stark polyrhythm. The song’s ebbs and flows originate different passages, each one with its specific mood. Hence, there’s Osby’s meditative phrases over the bandleader’s surprising, effect-drenched comping; and by the end, you’ll find Brewer’s firm bass drones immersing the tune in a darker atmosphere. The transition from this piece (written for the late Kalief Browder) to the following, “Lady T’s Vibe”, is simply remarkable. This grooving, chill-out funk manifesto features Payton’s rich melodies and Teresa Lee’s backing vocals. This is no mere nostalgia kick, it’s pure funk-soul pleasure.
Both “Test Run” and “Smokescreen” dive deep in avant-jazz currents. The former, with the two drummers side by side, ends up infiltrating into funk rock territory after Osby's fragmented rapid runs stuffed with angular piquancy. In turn, “Smokescreen” is colorfully introduced by Payton, who rejoices with freedom while conducting ambitious and powerful statements. Escreet keeps him good company, bringing together the ambiguity of modern jazz and the innocuous pleasures of tradition. This blistering frame of mind can be also found in “Contradictions”, a stout, motivic excursion into the modern creative domain. In contrast, there are two balladic numbers, “A World Without Guns” and “Humanity Please”, which reveal a deep consciousness for the problems of our world.
Evolving impressively from beginning to end, the title cut is a mutable, underground electronic romp that starts as an acid jazz work out. Improvising upfront, Escreet is spiky and lively in his sayings, whereas Payton opts for a more cerebral approach over the chord changes. Complementing this long journey of unreserved communication, there is a pressurized passage with ominous vibes and unstoppable, ebullient drumming; a playful vamp with futuristic keyboard psychedelia; and a sort of rock-meets-drum n’ bass section in which the bandleader solos with tasteful intervallic choices.
The album, the first of composed material in five years, mirrors its author’s love of the unexpected, constant search for the new, and a broad stylistic vision. Escreet is indeed a forward-thinking musician and savvy songwriter whose music will delight creative music listeners.
02 - Broken Justice (Kalief) ► 03 - Lady T’s Vibe ► 05 - Learn To Live