He may have worked with such free improv luminaries as Tony Oxley and Barry Guy, he may have experimented with electronics, multi-tracked solo recordings, and graphic scores; deep down inside Howard Riley is a jazzman, though. Maybe in his mind avant-garde comes first, but for his fingers jazz is the key, something that became more and more obvious as years passed. Recorded in the studio April 9, 2000, this album of piano solos takes the listener at the heart of Riley's influences. Monk, Evans, or Tyner are never quoted, but their presence is almost genetic, inscribed in the player's fingertips. The 11 pieces performed are compositions in a very traditional jazz sense: melodies, harmonies, structures. Yet, they convey a sense of freedom typically avant-garde. The only lengthy number in the set, the 14-minute "Similitudes" is also the only track sounding mostly improvised. Here the pianist's style gets very close to Keith Tippett (the two of them have often worked together): emotive with lots of resounding bass notes. Elsewhere, pieces are kept shorter, tighter, and express concise ideas, like the Monk-esque "Air Play" or the ballad "Prophets" (the latter a bit cold by Riley's standards). Those interested in the pianist's more experimental side should direct their attention to the reissues of his 1970s works on Emanem, but for the jazz fan who wants to widen his/her horizons slowly and risk-free, Air Play will do just that.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by François Couture