David Kikoski Trio
Although David Kikoski has done great work as a member of Roy Haynes's band, he is at his absolute best in a trio setting such as this. His previous effort, The Maze, never managed to take flight; it was as though Kikoski's hands were tied by the quartet format. But here he returns in top form on his third Criss Cross release, an all-original trio outing. The formidable pianist is supported by John Patitucci on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, the very rhythm section that appears on Joey Calderazzo's equally excellent trio album of the same year.
"Rose, Part 1 & 2" ranks as one of Kikoski's most swinging, inspired compositions to date. Other highlights include the frenetic, polyrhythmic "Water," the funky and complex "Betrayal," and the ambitious rubato-to-swing "Opportunity." Patitucci's solos on the slow "Blues in the Face" and the up-tempo "Immediacy" are also show-stoppers, as is Watt's solo on the latter.
At times, Kikoski's playing and writing can seem coldly technical, but he is nonetheless one of the most compelling pianists on the scene. Along with 1995's self-titled disc and 1998's Inner Trust, Almost Twilight is an essential entry in his steadily growing catalog.
- David R. Adler (All Music Guide)
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For his third Criss Cross Jazz release, pianist David Kikoski decided to return to the trio setting of his earlier disc, Inner Trust, but with a difference. This time all of the selections are his original compositions, most of them unconventional and challenging pieces for both the players and the audience.
"Basically I had started all these tunes that I was going to record," the pianist explains. "The compositions were halfway completed and I broke my wrist, so the session was postponed and the songs were put on hold. My right hand was in a cast for six weeks, and after I got the cast off I scheduled another date for December.
"I had a week at Sweet Basil booked with John Patitucci and Jeff Watts for December. I finished all the songs and we rehearsed for the gig at Sweet Basil, and we played the whole week. And on the Saturday afternoon we went into the studio and recorded the songs that we'd been performing all week."
Bassist John Patitucci may be best known for his tenure with Chick Corea, and is currently one of the most highly regarded and in-demand rhythm section players on the scene. So is Jeff "Tain" Watts, Branford Marsalis' longtime drummer and a welcomed presence on countless recordings by a wide range of artists. David performed once in duo with John, and Jeff appeared on David's last Criss Cross date, The Maze. But, according to the pianist, "this was the first time we worked together as a trio. We had plans to play at Sweet Basil before but it didn't work out, and then finally it came around."
The opening track, Waiting for G.M., a brief three-plus-minute performance, serves as the preface to this portfolio of David Kikoski works. "That's a song I already had written," David notes, "but I never recorded. I was visiting a friend who had to go do an errand. While I was waiting for him to come back I was playing on his piano and I wrote a tune in about 10 minutes. It was one of those tunes that just came out very quickly."
Rose has an arresting two-part form, opening in 4/4 time, but suddenly shifting into a rubato section before time is reestablished. "I had some fragments of different ideas," David explains, "and it sort of blended together. Then after I recorded it I actually realized subconsciously that the dedication is to my mom-her name is Rose-and also I have a good friend in England by the name of Rose. So the two parts sort of worked themselves out like that, but it just happened naturally. It kind of fell into place by itself."
John Patitucci's bass sings the first phrase of the melody before handing the line to David. "John and I were rehearsing duo at my house-Jeff was out of town-and John started playing the melody of Rose, part one, and it seemed to fit perfectly on the bass. It was just a natural melody for the bass to play." David's solo builds gradually, patiently, in intensity, while John, in his solo statement, displays his facility in and control of his instrument's upper register.
The rhythmically complex Water offers an instructive glimpse into the way David's pieces are born and evolve. "Sometimes when I compose," he reflects, "I just start playing and I then figure out what it is later, and sometimes it turns out to be odd meter. But it's not my intention.
"When I was writing Water, the mixed-meter section, which is the intro and the outro, came out first. I was practicing on a synthesizer and I wasn't thinking of six or three or four or five. A rhythmic phrase just popped into my head. I started jamming one beat at a time, played it into a tape recorder, and later on I had to figure out how many beats were here and how many beats were there. It came out in different groupings of five and different groupings of three or six, but I didn't write it thinking of any sort of odd meter-it just came out that way. And then I wrote the second theme, which is kind of a samba in 3/4."
Jeff Watts' role in the development of this piece goes beyond his perfectly paced and controlled drum solo. "During the week at Sweet Basil," David recalls, "Jeff was experimenting with some cross-rhythms over the five sections, and I want to thank him for his contribution. He took what I had and brought it to another dimension, which was fantastic."
Games takes a somewhat more conventional form, but, again, the final form of a composition is not a priority for David. "The form sort of appears later-I don't think of it first. I basically think of a feeling or emotion, and then it sort of develops from there. I'm basically thinking of melodies and harmonies."
David's solo is a study in relentless inspiration, as the ideas appear as fast as he can translate them from brain to hands. John maintains that pace and Jeff, in a series of subdued trades with David, shows power and strength, but never overplays.
The original ballad, Almost Twilight, is a tone poem to those final, fleeting moments of late afternoon, just before evening enters and daylight fades. "I was visiting a family in the south of France and I was looking at a beautiful sunset. It was almost twilight and it was so gorgeous and tranquil. I tried to convey some of that with this song." And so he does, with both his delicate, evocative writing and the melancholy lyricism of his playing.
Betrayal, David remarks, "conveys some of the darker moments of life by utilizing what I would call micro-modes' and experimenting with different sinister intervallic relationships." The track opens with an intense and complex unison line for David's left hand and John's bass, propelled by Jeff's restless triplet figures. This evolves into some dark and brooding two-handed piano counterpoint. The opening bass and left-hand figure returns, this time as an ostinato under Jeff's churning, boiling drum solo, after which this taut, tension-filled performance comes to a close.
Clearly the most basic piece on this album is Blues in the Face. "I've been influenced recently by some of the New Orleans pianists, so some of that New Orleans-style blues comes in there at times-particularly on the intro-an influence from Professor Longhair and Dr. John and people like that." Through three choruses David explores the rich, inexhaustible expressive potential inherent in this slow, twelve-bar blues, and Jeff, in two choruses, digs deep to the roots. David returns for two more rounds, bringing this track to a satisfying and natural resolution.
Framed by two extended rubato sections, Opportunity is seven and a half minutes of stunning group music. "The whole thing was improvised a few months before while I was on tour," David notes. "I played it into a tape recorder, just experimenting with improvising a ballad. I transcribed one section of what I improvised and wrote it out for John to help me play some of the left-hand parts. And Jeff used his ears, learned the melody and the bass line, and created his own mood on top of that."
The final exercise in trio communication and interaction, immediacy, as David points out, "is an up-tempo vehicle to blow on, a springboard for almost a free improvisation, loosely based on pedal tones and diatonic melodies." Each member of the group makes the most of the opportunities offered here, both individually and collectively, as they have done on every other track of this provocative and eye-opening musical document.
- Bob Bemotas, jazz journalist
New York, June 2000