Aaron Diehl

The Vagabond

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Pianist Aaron Diehl is a deftly sophisticated performer with a sound that encompasses both straight-ahead jazz and classical traditions. While he is perhaps best known for his Grammy-winning work alongside vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, the Juilliard graduate has also played with Wynton Marsalis and Wycliffe Gordon, and regularly led his own swinging, harmonically rich groups. On 2020's The Vagabond, he further displays his expansive skills playing a mix of originals and well-curated covers alongside the other two members of his trio, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The album, which follows 2013's superb The Bespoke Man's Narrative and 2015's equally adventurous Space Time Continuum, again reveals Diehl's compositional prowess and inclination towards sparkling harmonies and subtle group interplay. It's a soft, ruminative record full of lyrical songs that Diehl and his band play with a delicate, whisper-like intensity. Of his originals, "Lamia" is a languid, minor-key ballad full of long, sweeping phrases packed with flamenco-esque drama. More frenetic is "Magnanimous Disguise," which finds the trio deconstructing the song's driving 4/4 swing with wry rubato-sounding sections that push and pull the tempo in all directions. More impressionistic is "Kaleidoscope Road," a shimmering piece that evokes the chamber style of pianist Ahmad Jamal. Diehl's handful of covers are equally engaging, including a fleet-footed, Thelonious Monk-esque rendition of Sergei Prokofiev's "March from Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 12," in which the pianist frees himself from his left-hand chords to take an extended single-line right-hand solo. Elsewhere, Diehl offers a moving version of Sir Roland Hanna's elegiac ballad "A Story Often Told, Seldom Heard," and conjures dark harmonic clouds with Philip Glass' "Piano Etude No. 16."

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