Solo Piano
Edgetone Records EDT 4004

When the opportunity arises to release it, self-effacing musicians have to decide whether their first CD should be pieced together from already recorded items or be a new beginning. As less expensive recording media makes CD production an option for many, either decision can be correct, with the result being a milestone or a disappointment. Unfortunately pianist Scott Looney appears to have made the wrong choice.

Technically admirable and impeccably recorded and mastered, this disc is a pleasant enough collection that meanders between New Age ennui and Keith Jarrett-like showiness. Looney proves he’s a fine pianist on these eight tracks recorded in 1995. It’s just that a more exciting session, recorded in 2000, with bassist Damon Short and saxophonist Tony Bevan show that his skills at piano, prepared piano and electronics have multiplied many times since then.

The pianist, who has mixed and mastered several other Edgetone releases and is familiar with interactive electronics as well as holding a MFA in music composition, recorded these tracks in New York and Kansas City not too long after he completed his studies. Since relocating in the Bay area he has performed with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith — also one of his teachers — saxophonists Rent Romus and Dan Plonsey and the Oakland Electroacoustic Quartet.

Each of the three standards here — “Take the A Train”, “Stardust” and “Silent Night” is built up the way any hyper talented and original piano student would do. Starting with fingering that seems to be tickling rather than playing the keys, the melody is languidly revealed and then decorated with ornate runs. Otherwise, too many of the other tunes appear to want to splay themselves cross-legged on the floor and begin meditating. That might have been fine in a live context, but in the harsh mirror of a CD laser they appear to be as unsubstantial as gossamer wings.

Some muscle does illuminates the two most interesting compositions however, but only in certain sections. This sinew appears about half way through “Sun - the gentle, penetrating”, which is mostly an overlong, New Agey piece awash in 19th Century romanticism. But that concentrated double timing soon sinks back into the theme. More promisingly, seemingly the only prepared piano excursion here, “K’an - the abysmal” — which is anything but — has Looney treating the instrument like a harpsichord with a built-in bass continuo. Distressingly too, though, energy vanishes by its completion.

Looney is probably proud of these performances and didn’t want to dismiss them as mere juvenilia. But on the basis of what he’s done since then, they’re eminently forgettable. With more mature influences and conceptions, the key session may be his next CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Chen - the arousing, shock 2. Wander 3. Take the “A” Train 4. Ken - keeping still 5. K’an - the abysmal 6. Sun - the gentle, penetrating 7. Stardust 8. Silent Night

Personnel: Scott Looney (piano, prepared piano)