IF A ROYAL JAZZ VARIETY SHOW were to exist, it’s conceivable that American pianist Emmet Cohen and colleagues could take the stage for the first number and still be wowing the audience – clapping, or rattling their jewellery, as John Lennon put it – at the final curtain! Such is the diversity and entertainment to be found in Future Stride.
Already the recipient of numerous awards, including winner at the 2019 American Pianists Awards, Cohen began his journey at the tender age of three with the Suzuki method of instruction, and has become a pretty neat exponent of stride piano. But venture further than the evocative post-ragtime verve of this collection’s opening, century-old Symphonic Raps (which showcases those leaping left-hand skills) and you’ll find the first of many gear changes into lush contemporary or whimsical chamber jazz. Hence the album title’s implication of connection and continuity, reinforcing his commitment to ‘the intergenerational transfer of the knowledge, history and traditions of jazz’.
The pianist’s trio with double bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole is joined on a clutch of numbers by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana and trumpeter Marquis Hill. Together, they produce a fabulously rich sound across a blend of Cohen’s own compositions and those of past masters, including Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington and Van Heusen/Cahn.
Reflections at Dusk introduces the full quintet with a lush, melodious weave of muted trumpet and sax, underpinned by Cohen’s considered ornamentation. The blithe swing of Toast to Lo glides to the horns’ smooth, individual and combined improvisations, honouring the life of drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers (a big influence on this album’s players) through Kyle Poole’s glinting rhythms; and the eventual snap into double time is sublime. Full of audacious metrical switches and playful conversations, title trio track Future Stride flaps and fizzes, while breathlessly-swinging You Already Know suggests the mid-Sixties ‘cool’ of Johnny Dankworth – a foot-tapping joy-bringer that tumbles with solo after solo.
Cohen’s arrangements for his trio are just as inviting, Second Time Around sustaining its timeless beauty through cascading piano lines and group empathy, while My Heart Stood Still skips brightly. Now over a hundred years old, jaunty piano piece Dardanella is bathed in new light as Hall and Poole provide the intensifying, showtime impetus; and Ellington’s Pitter Panther Patter becomes a jolly, bass-slapping duo with piano. Finally, for Cohen’s Little Angel, Marquis Hill’s mellow trumpet overlays intervals and responsive phrases in this gorgeous ballad.
If that all smacks of a potpourri of disconnected ideas, the total experience is far from it. Instead, these performances are slick, engaging, and certainly not just about the piano. Emmet Cohen’s aptitude for sequencing and contrasting keeps it bubbling, prompting the desire to catch this album’s many delights over and over again. Encore, please!
Emmet Cohen piano
Russell Hall acoustic bass
Kyle Poole drums
with special guests
Melissa Aldana tenor saxophone
Marquis Hill trumpet
Mack Avenue – MAC1181 (2021)