What can you say about a 21-year-old jazz pianist who begins with John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," turns the harmony inside out, twists the mode, and presents its mirror image and reflects the composer's lyricism and fire in fiery post-bop language, and still maintain the integrity of the tune? Only that it's Taylor Eigsti. Lucky to Be Me is Eigsti's third album, and his first for Concord. It reeks of self-confidence and a bad boy's sense of mischief, and with good reason: Eigsti's got the chops, both technically and inspirationally, to pull this -- and much more -- off. The instrumentation on this set is varied. Musicians include bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash (the rhythm section on the aforementioned and the gorgeous read of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" just to name two), saxophonist Eric Marienthal, drummer Billy Kilson, bassist James Genus, guitarist Julian Lage, trumpeter Greg Adams, and more. The shifting instrumentation and arrangements are characterized by the tunes. McBride and Nash also appear on a jazz read of Mussorgsky's "Promenade" and Alabama 3's "Woke Up This Morning," the theme from The Sopranos. That's not the half of it, though: there are startling versions of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," "Darn That Dream," and Björk's "I've Seen It All." Eigsti brings freshness, sophistication, and a deep sense of maturity to these tunes. He reinvents them without ever tearing them apart; in other words, his sense of "song" is profound and foremost. The Harris tune is introduced by the a series of contrapuntal moves by Eigsti and then flipped over into some kind of bop/modal thing -- all the while keeping the rhythm intact and forceful. But it is, perhaps, on his own compositions, like the lovely "Get Your Hopes Up," where he shines most. Eigsti is not an academic player, though he is a flashy one. His sense of harmony and melody is not far removed from the euphoric dynamics of Pat Metheny's, and here, as in everything he writes on Lucky to Be Me, the sense of time is fluid -- floating and yet anchored by his left hand. Eigsti engages Lage on the head and then slips around him, playing behind the beat first, double-timing it next, and finally coming right through the middle of it to allow the lyric to reestablish itself as the prominent voice in the tune. His large, open-ringing chords are the signatures he imposes on his harmonics and his changeups. This is a solid date throughout. Though the track listing may read like it's schizophrenic and manic, the disc is anything but. It flows from top to bottom, and the listener will no doubt be moved and awed by some of Eigsti's pyrotechnics -- though they always have soul -- and on the tunes that feature Lage, listeners will be awed, too, by his command of the jazz guitar language. Lucky to Be Me is a mature, fiery, and surprising set by a talent who is still getting started while arriving fully formed as an artist.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek