Born in Cleveland, this pianist may have redeemed the honour of the Rodriguezes by taking up jazz after hearing a Teddy Wilson record on the radio. Wilson’s big break in the early 1930s had been at the expense of one Nicholas ‘Rod’ Rodriguez, a nice pianist whose old age was solaced by his ability to organise a mostly self-produced vinyl album. It’s easier to get recorded these, if not issued or publicised, but pianists who shouldn’t escape attention are still often ignored, something all the more musically annoying when they’re by no means the standard product.
That happy description applies to the guy here, whose first classical teacher directed the new jazz fan to the beginning of a chain of jazz teachers and influences. So say the CD’s notes without mentioning the names of enough of these people. They deserve some recognition, and presumably there was something special about some of them. Rodriguez has “studied modern composition with a disciple of Pierre Boulez”? But which one?
Based for some time in Houston, Texas, home of CreOp Muse, Rodriguez worked as accompanist for a number of touring musicians, don’t ask me who. He also worked as pianist, composer, and arranger for the 13-piece Creative Opportunity Orchestra, whose leader, Tina Marsh (a singer), has also performed in public with a Rodriguez trio (see the CreOp Muse label’s catalogue).
The now-New York-based pianist is said to have developed what he calls “long form”, applying his studies in classical composition to the working out of, yes, long performances. While the “interest in reharmonization” to which the notes also refer might be standard in a musician of Rodriguez’s generation, the important fact is that in putting together what he does here Rodriguez holds that interest remarkably.
Does his opener have a tune? It seems to start with one, but suddenly the process of the music unfolds to broad complex harmony with no ostensive leading-note. With Mike Richmond on bass and the equally expert veteran Eliot Zigmund on drums, the opener and title track is a wide and peaceful “corridor” composed by the pianist, with views and mysteries.
Richmond’s beautiful attack and articulation, prod and underline, are crucial in tandem with the equally subtle drumming in a recital remarkably free of trendy mannerisms. One fashionable practice—but fashionable among only the more gifted—is of starting among the harmonies and opening out to a theme, rather than beginning with an initial theme statement (when there’s a theme to state). One melodically creative improvisation finally reveals Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss”, which comes out as a relative of “I Surrender, Dear”. Ellington does get credited with his composition, but the opening and close of the track under its name are very different.
In Coltrane’s “Naima”, the drummer works hard, but the pianist remains meditative among the harmonies, spinning out melodic ideas. He does have a remakrable constructive power, whether extending his own “It’s Not That Dark” or picking up on Kreisler’s “Liebesleid” with an increase in delicacy and a capacity for pretty simple expression, easing out of minor melancholy implications. The performance of “Liebesleid” is very slow, and to make it more interesting Rodriguez changes pace to an impressively ever more slow and soothing process of transition. Richmond needs to phrase his broad but quiet pacing contributions very carefully. Someone of his class was needed.
The opening of “Within the Line” reminds me melodically of an unusual collaboration between Charlie Haden and Geri Allen which began with Haden’s bass playing orca calls (and had the word ‘Whales’ in the title). Rodriguez, with exemplary rhythm support, proceeds after the opening into something medium-paced, not fingering rapidly, but adapting a flowing, not-distinctively-timbered piano style to the sort of half-time playing very different pianists produce—to immense rhythmic effect—while bass and drums charge ahead. He is reluctant to get loud, almost does, and after he has constructed a sequence of climaxes, the performance fades in the middle of another one.
The closer explores harmonies very atmospherically at the beginning, sustaining the pensiveness which prevails throughout. Then Rodgers and Hart’s “Spring is Here” is, well, here. There’s something like the most understated depiction I know of a struggle, spells of intensified rhythm, and plainly Rodriguez is not technically challenged. The really nice thing he does on the closer is to take his restrained approach further back until it’s an accompaniment to Richmond’s soloing bass.
This is a many-sided recital for all that it’s profoundly quiet. In fact it’s quietly profound. Very quietly very profound. I want to whisper this review.