November 25, 2016


Aaron Diehl - Space Time Continuum

The "Making of" video: 

As I look back on my previous ATJ posts, one of the (many) failings has been that most of the subjects have either been decades' old recordings by now-elderly or deceased musicians or tributes to the recently departed.  The obvious explanation for this is that it is easy for me to write about music I've been listening to my whole life, music that runs through my head at all hours of the day and that is as familiar to me as the sound of my own footsteps or my kids' voices. But it gives the impression that jazz belongs in a museum somewhere and is not a current, vital and engaging art form.  So, as an early New Year's resolution, I resolve to challenge myself to dig more deeply into the current jazz scene and to shift the balance of these essays a bit.

Having said that, all art, no matter how current or revolutionary, is most impactful when, to one extent or another, it preserves, incorporates or builds upon what came before it.  As ground-breaking as Charlie Parker's bebop was, it was meticulously built on the same popular songs and 12-bar blues that his predecessors had played and that were familiar to his audiences.

On his wonderful 2015 album, Space Time Continuum, 31-year old pianist Aaron Diehl creates exciting new music that is informed, but never enslaved, by the past.  Throughout the recording one hears his influences, from Ellington to Horace Silver, John Lewis, Bud Powell and beyond,  but not for a moment does the music sound like a tribute album or a history lesson.  Playing with musicians from past generations (Benny Golson and Joe Temperley) and from his own (bassist David Wong, drummer Quincy Davis, trumpeter Bruce Harris, and saxophonist Stephen Riley), Diehl creates music that is so original and devoid of musical cliché that an unremarkable short quote from Peter and the Wolf in the track Santa Maria, which would go unnoticed in any other jazz performance, jumped out at me.

The New York Times has described Diehl's playing as "scholarly and fastidious," but that doesn't mean it lacks in emotion or thrills (to be fair, the Times also notes that he is "jubilant, swinging").  The Temperley feature, The Steadfast Titan, is stately, yet noir-ish and world-weary, while Broadway Boogie Woogie, is an exhilarating Bud Powell-inspired sprint across the keyboard.   On Kat's Dance, an almost-classical-sounding duet with a driving 6/4 meter, Diehl's clean, propulsive attack is nicely balanced by Riley's breathy timbre, which sits somewhere on a continuum of tenor sounds beyond Ben Webster, Lester Young and Stan Getz.  Other than Kat's Dance, and the opening track, Uranus (a catchy swinger written by Walter Bishop, Jr., and long a favorite of the Jazz Messengers), all of the numbers are Diehl's original compositions.

In Piano Players, Ben Sidran's paean to his keyboard predecessors, he sings:

The music they made
is alive today, 
because when you hear Cecil Taylor
You hear Jelly Roll play. 

With Space Time Continuum Aaron Diehl consciously puts that concept into practice, and the result is a fresh, brilliant and enjoyable achievement.

Posted by at November 25, 2016 3:57 PM