Emmet Cohen: Uptown In Orbit

Young New York pianist essays a wide range of style with trio and horn guests, imbuing the traditional with a modernist flavour

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The recent pandemic lockdown continues to make its mark on jazz, as yet another album appears that was the result of those extreme conditions.

For pianist Emmet Cohen, it was a period when he was forced to explore new ways of working, turning his hand to broadcasting a weekly webcast from his Sugar Hill apartment in New York with his trio that expanded to include invited guests and hi-tech production and result in more than 100 broadcasts. In the process, he learned a lot about himself and his music, always playing and composing in the moment to keep the music fresh.

That concentration, and dedication, shows throughout this fine set, an intriguing mix of his own compositions and some excellent standards. And none is finer than the opener, Willie “The Lion” Smith’s Finger Buster, taken in ebullient, fast-fingered, upbeat fashion, much of it solo, as per tradition, and the oh-so-quiet, glacially slow Neil Hefti song, Li’l Darlin.

Emmet Cohen is an interesting pianist and composer, at home in modern jazz but equally adept at earlier styles, as shown by his own composition, Spillin’ The Tea, which could easily be an early stride piano piece, such is its syncopation and period feel, yet one updated throughout with modernist touches. And he does the concluding Duke Ellington piece Braggin’ In Brass proud.

Bassist Russell Hall is an equal lead partner, and on the strength of his intro to Distant Hallow, an evocative soloist, Kyle Poole a sympathetic drum leader. Added trumpet and saxophone on five tracks give an extra intensity to Cohen’s own loaded title track, to the quiet beauty of the ballad My Love Will Come Again, and in strident style to Distant Hallow. And when they come together, it is near perfect.

What a fine album.

Discography
Finger Buster; Uptown In Orbit; My Love Will Come Again; Spillin’ The Tea; Li’l Darlin’; The Loneliest; Uptown In Orbit (reprise); Distant Hallow; Mosaic; Venus De Milo; Braggin’ In Brass (56.54)
Cohen (p); Russell Hall (b); Kyle Poole (d), plus Sean Jones (t); Patrick Bartley (ts). NYC, 1–2 December 2021.
Mack Avenue MAC1195