The Reese Project,
Blue Etude
(Wyndfall, 2000)

The Reese Project is indeed a family affair, made up of flautist Tom Reese (who composes the songs), Kirk Reese on piano and Laurie Haines Reese on cello. The other members are Bob Brewer and Johnny DeFrancesco on guitars, Paul Klinefelter on bass and drummer Glenn Ferracone. There's also support from guest artists Hannes Dietrich on violin/viola and Jeff Stabley on congas. You might think from the instrumentation that the Reese Project is oriented to chamber jazz, but this CD will set you straight. The Reese Project plays everything from blues (the concentration here) to bop to funk, and in each style they are more than adept and quite frequently sublime.

The album starts with a funky, down-home groove, but then there's a complex chord that lets us know we're listening to jazz, and the flute comes in, warm and fluffy as a new puppy. Because of the fact that there's no reed to bend, I've always felt that it's difficult to get much passion from a flute, but Tom Reese proves the exception, working wonders with just a column of air, changing that warm puppy into a junkyard dog when the spirit moves him. He's got great chops and can play lightning fast, but also knows when to slow down and let the emotion carry him. Kirk Reese on piano is his equal, as his first solo proves. Block chords lead into some elegant single-note right-hand work, and the level stays high through the CD.

"Autumn Samba," with a solid guitar solo by Brewer, rides in a minor key Latin groove that wistfully suggests a lost love in a dying season. It's a lovely composition. Next is "Blue Tuesday," with a funky vocal by Jesse Yawn, whose growly/raspy/bluesy style fits the song like a steel glove. It's a little Joe Williams, a little Jimmy Rushing and a whole lot of fun. There's a killer instrumental conversation here between DeFrancesco's guitar and Kirk Reese's piano, in which the guitar plays the insatiable woman pleading for more, while the piano begs wait a minute, wait a minute, can't do no more right now! The guitar's hot and the piano's cool, chilled way down, pleading for mercy, until it gets stronger and stronger, ending with pounding chords, ready to re-enter the fray. But it's too late and the vocal coda finds the lady walking out on him.

It's back to autumn with "Fall Blues," which starts out in the same wistful mood as the previous one, but the band really cuts loose partway through. There's some wild solo work, the flute becoming absolutely Dionysian in its speed and excitement. "Loose Goose Blues" is a rhythmically complex piece that still swings like mad, thanks in large part to Kirk Reese's masterful solo. Tom Reese's flute rocks as well (and no, "flute rocks" is not necessarily a contradiction in terms).

The title track, a duet between Laurie Haines Reese and guitarist Brewer, is a glorious piece of music, and whether or not it's jazz depends on how broad your definition is. Mine is very broad. Still, this has more to do with Bach than bop, with interweaving lines between cello and guitar. It has a stark, spare, minimalist sound, with rich dissonances that slowly resolve themselves. A guitar/cello duet isn't something you expect in a jazz album, and its appearance here is in startlingly beautiful contrast to the rest of the music. Jazz is, after all, about surprise, and too often it's unsurprising. Not in this case.

"Duncan's Waltz" starts out as a delicate jazz waltz with an understated flute solo, but proves a study in contrasts, getting into a funkier Brewer guitar solo. There's another hot DeFrancesco guitar solo in "Blues for Mr. "B," and the album concludes with a beautifully written and performed vocal, "Key to Your Heart." Anne Sciolla's gorgeous voice does perfect justice to the lyrics, and blends exquisitely with the purity of Tom Reese's Indian flute, creating almost a Celtic and melancholy keening. The song approaches classical lieder, and the final lyric, "until you fade from view," receives a masterful effect with the Indian flute fading softly into silence.

Blue Etude more than fulfills the promise of the Reese Project's earlier work. It's a fine hour of beautifully recorded jazz that offers creative compositions, tight performances and eye-opening surprises. And that's what the best jazz is all about.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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