ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Jack Bowers
September 22, 2023
Even though Ted Piltzecker is a splendid vibraphonist and ushers a group of Colorado's leading jazz musicians through its paces on Vibes on a Breath, it is his sparkling arrangements that carry the day on this delightful new album. Several members of Piltzecker's septet double, and he makes the most of that versatility, writing charts that bring to the fore John Gunther's bass clarinet, Wil Swindler's baritone sax and (on the closing number) Judith Leclair's bassoon and Javier Diaz's percussion.
Polarity, however, encompasses only a small part of Piltzecker's arsenal, as his approach to every theme is fresh and enlivening, starting with the scarecrow's lament, "If I Only Had a Brain," from The Wizard of Oz and continuing through seven more jazz and popular masterworks and three of his own inventive compositions. Perhaps the best way to describe Piltzecker's charts is colorful, as he manages to wrest every ounce of warmth and spirit from his talented septet as he entwines unforeseen moods and tempos.
It is altogether fitting that bassist Gonzalo Teppa should introduce "If I Only Had a Brain," as he is rock-solid on every number and contributes greatly to the rhythm section's unflagging stability (as does drummer Paul Romaine, with Piltzecker subbing for piano). That number sets the tone, its easygoing cadence amplifying sharp solos by Piltzecker, trumpeter Brad Goode and trombonist Paul McKee. Nat King Cole's mega-hit, "Nature Boy," which follows, enters quietly before shifting midstream to a sunnier groove that abets forceful statements by Piltzecker, McKee and Teppa.
Gunther takes his lone tenor solo on the first of Piltzecker's compositions, "Roaring Fork Closure," on which the leader and Goode also have their say. A second Piltzecker original, "We'll Get Through This," written during the pandemic, is a well-grooved charmer on which Teppa's opening solo is followed by brisk four-bar exchanges between Goode and McKee and a dazzling coda by the ensemble. Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," heard most often as a ballad, is given a Latinized intro that leads to more straight-ahead moments and creative solos by Piltzecker, McKee and Goode.
Lee Konitz's "Subconscious Lee" is a flat-out swinger on which Gunther's bass clarinet is a focal point, as it is on Hoagy Carmichael's lyrical, easygoing "New Orleans," with solos by Piltzecker and Romaine on "Lee," Gunther, Piltzecker, Romaine and Teppa (arco) on "New Orleans." The leader features himself (with McKee) on Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen's exquisite standard, "It Could Happen to You," which leads to Keith Jarrett's meditative "In Your Quiet Place" (superb duo work midway by Piltzecker and Teppa, perceptive solo by Swindler on baritone) and Miles Davis/Victor Feldman's lively "Seven Steps to Heaven" (gently introduced by Piltzecker's mellow vibraphone) whose animated solos are by Swindler and Romaine.
"Bus," the last of Piltzecker's originals, is a through-written twelve-tone set piece whose melody is fashioned by Leclair's bassoon and what sounds like a harpsichord, although none is listed, before reaching a mildly discordant climax. That is an outlier, one that in no way detracts from the album's over-all excellence (and in some ears may add to it). Piltzecker's trip from New York to Colorado, where he once served as director of the annual Aspen Jazz Festival, was more than worthwhile, as it has produced one of 2023's more inspired and pleasurable albums.