Rachel Eckroth: Humanoid

Having sung and played keyboards with Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall and Chris Botti, Eckroth returns to modal and postbop jazz

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Music has carried Rachel Eckroth on a long journey. Born in North Dakota, she has travelled the world singing and playing keyboards in jazz and pop bands led by Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall and Chris Botti. Now, the crossover artist gets back to her roots in acoustic jazz with a live album featuring a quartet recorded at the Sam First jazz club in Los Angeles.

Humanoid explores four Eckroth originals and four pieces from other composers. It brings together bassist Billy Mohler and drummer Tina Raymond, with Andrew Renfroe joining on guitar. The tracks are all roughly eight minutes long, leaving plenty of room for the musicians to roam – and space for the audience to politely applaud each solo too.

The title track was created for this performance. It has a swaggering coolness, with a slippery bass figure and a Monkish twistiness in the offbeat melody. Renfroe plays a bluesy solo. When Eckroth’s turn follows, the band takes a few bars to simmer. The pianist favours a famine-and-feast improvising style, with long pockets of silence and whirlwind flurries of rapid notes.

Under A Fig Tree is taken from Eckroth’s Grammy-nominated 2021 album, The Garden. A left-hand pattern from piano generates the track’s spooky mood. There’s engaging use of sliding volumes and shifts in speed throughout. Raymond’s flighty, agitated percussion stands out.

The Duke Ellington composition Fleurette Africaine is the longest track. A two-minute guitar intro sets up a subdued atmosphere. Renfroe and Eckroth blend their solos, as the group thickens the sound beneath them.

Humanoid presents highly proficient players in a familiar format. It’s restrained in places, with several slowed-down and subdued moments. But Eckroth’s return to her roots showcases the exceptional skills that have propelled her across musical and geographic borders.


Discography
Humanoid; Mind; Lawns; Under a Fig Tree; Fleurette Africaine; Evolution; Strange Meeting; Vines (68.28)
Eckroth (p); Andrew Renfroe (g); Billy Mohler (b); Tina Raymond (d). Sam First jazz club, Los Angeles, 2023.
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