Dr. Joe Gilman, a jazz musician with numerous accolades, is both a gifted pianist and composer. In addition to being a recording artist, Gilman is a music professor. 2012 release Relativity serves as a tone poem based upon the twentieth century artwork of M.C. Escher. Relativity, released via Capri, Gilman’s second foray into interpretative music based upon art, follows acclaimed 2010 effort Americanvas. Relativity superbly synthesizes Gilman’s classical and jazz background into an album that never concedes creativity or consistency. Gilman receives talented assistance from saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, trumpeter Nick Frenay, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Corey Fonville.
Opener “Three Spheres” instantly captures attention with its snappy tempo. Trumpet and tenor saxophone work in tandem to produce an angular bop-like melody, buttressed by the rhythm of bass and drums. After the head, exceptional solos proceed by Lefkowitz-Brown and Frenay, concluding with Gilman. Gilman’s piano mastery shines, with his right hand melodic improvisations agilely contrasting sparser, punchier comps in the left. Ending on a spectacular fading vamp, “Three Spheres”, tightly centered around ‘three’ key schemes, exemplifies cerebral.
“Waterfall” contrasts opening with Nick Frenay opting for the warmer sound of the flugelhorn. Leftkowitz-Brown enters in timely fashion to complement Frenay in skillful melodic interplay. When Gilman solos, his focus lies most on melodic treble ideas as opposed to left-hand comping. Gilman’s activity evolves as his solo progresses with saxophone and trumpet re-entering the mix as he continues to solo. “Waterfall”, stays true to Relativity‘s ‘soundtrack’ concept.
“Three Worlds”, which opens with piano on a repetitive Ab, eventually surrounded by low-register chords, possesses an air of mysteriousness epitomizing the abstract, artistic sentiment. Drums eventually enter using subtler brushes while the bass plays to standard jazz fare. Never lacking poise, quiet energy underlies “Three Worlds” with its best moment coming towards the end where bass clarinet (Leftkowitz-Brown) left-hand piano, and bass blend lovely in unison.
“Smaller and Smaller” returns a spryer tempo to Relativity, initiated by an aggressive, technical tenor sax solo by Lefkowitz-Brown. “Smaller and Smaller” exhibits freer jazz, with the head unpredictably proceeding Lefkowich-Brown’s angular solo as opposed to preceding it. Gilman’s pianistic agility continues and bassist Brown gets in on soloing as well, supported by light accompaniment from piano and drums. Always keeping time, Fonville also keeps things interesting with percussive instrumental choices and hits.
“Covered Alley” is brief, but the Lefkowitz-Brown composition continues to enhance Relativity. Straight-ahead with few frills from drummer Fonville, Nick Frenay executes the melody beautifully with simple accompaniment from Gilman. The ‘cherry on top’ is the classical approach taken by tenor sax and piano playing in tandem with one another melodically.
On “Encounter”, Gilman’s employment of Rhodes electric piano aids in cultivation of a more urbanized groove, a direct pipeline from the ‘70s fusion movement. The palette of sounds continues to impress, be it the combo of muted trumpet and tenor sax or left hand Rhodes and bass. Add to the mixture Fonville’s tension within the drums in which he rhythmically opposes the combo and “Encounter” is nothing short of an adventure.
“Snow” features biting bass clarinet from Lefkowitz-Brown as well as muted trumpet from Frenay. There is an abundance of musical ideas here, but above all, Gilman’s piano is pronounced within the mix. “Day and Night”, a second Lefkowitz-Brown conception, continues an air of consistency, keeping things interesting with harmonic progression quirks. Proceeding “Sky and Water”, composed by Gilman, continues to allure with the utmost consistency and few quibbles.
Scott Collard composes the final two cuts, “Dewdrop” and “Ascending and Descending”. “Dewdrop” packs a sound punch in under two minutes, closing with a cliché tenor saxophone at the end. Concluding cut “Ascending and Descending” is even better, adhering to a quick pace and more raucous style compared to the multitude. Additionally, “Ascending and Descending” yields the effort’s most adventurous harmonic work. The best part perhaps - Gilman delivers one of the album’s finest improvised solos.
Overall, Relativity is superbly conceived and executed. There is an absence of filler and misses, which is nothing short of a pro. Gilman confirms and epitomizes artistry expressing multiple facets of musicianship. His colleagues provide the utmost assistance adding greatly to the elite musicianship that distinguishes Relativity from other albums. A must for the jazz enthusiast.