In her first large ensemble recording, pianist/composer Peggy Stern reflects a deeply harmonic, richly hued piano style into original written music, employing a sensitive and very talented horn section. Trumpeter Ron Horton, tenor saxophonist John McKenna, and trombonist Art Baron bring Stern's charts to life, and bassists Harvie Swartz and Art Kell, drummers Tony Moreno and Bernard Purdie, and percussionist Memo Acevedo lay out the rhythmic landscape that is the foundation for the inventive vistas the pianist conjures.
The CD is bookended by Afro-Cuban based pieces. The first, "Salsicle," is truly an outstanding piece of modern jazz, using heated up-beats and a stance completely contemporary, with attractive, modally saturated piano chords as a foundation for a dynamic neo-bop chart -- instrumental music doesn't get better than this. "Toe to Toe" is the closer, with Stern's quirky to montuno piano, respectively heading up the tune and bridging the gap to the end. Purdie funkifies three tunes; the familiar, direct, and serene Woody Shaw evergreen "Sunbath," a fattish pane for Lee Konitz "Leeway," with puffed-up solo from Baron, and one minute hymnal to bluesy horn only prelude "Fugue," to the soulful and counterpointed "Buckleup." In moodier states of mind, Stern offers the haunting waltz "The Aerie," and mystery riddled solo piano intro to the light, airy, gay, and traipsing Brazilian feel of "Attila (for Attila Zoller)/Zolong." Lovely, patient horns with wistful samba or Native American rhythmic shadings inform the title cut, and a delicate bossa with triple overdubbed (11 singers X 3) vocal choir evokes near ghostly images during "New Rain." Stern's most impressive writing comes full force on "Room Enough," as contrasting light swing and heavy or probing horns buoy Stern's inquisitive modal piano with distinct boppish inferences.
Peggy Stern is quite a musician that the jazz world is relatively unaware of. This exceptional recording should change that, it's a strong effort front to back, highly recommended, and a solid candidate for album of the year.