Muhal Richard Abrams

Vision Towards Essence
Pi Recordings Pi23

Recorded at 1998’s Guelph Jazz Festival Vision Towards Essence captures New York-based pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ triumphant solo concert there. A composer and orchestrator as well as a pianist, Abrams invests the nearly 40-minute, three-part recital with enough sonic excursions and augmentations to challenge any notated composition.

Along the way he alludes to practically the entire history of piano music. At various junctions he touches on the airy coloring of rococo recapitulation; andante classical-styled patterning plus staccato interpolations; the double-paced rhythmic gait and ringing bass notes of Swing and boogie woogie; plus the dynamic pulse and rubato inventiveness of free-form jazz.

Initially exploring those polyphonic patterns that can be raised from cascading pulsations – which utilize the soundboard and brass lugs as much as the keyboard – he slides into gentle key fluffing with configurations that, as call-and-response vamping is exposed, also become more fortissimo and harder-edged. Eventually, portamento note cluster sluices transform into rippling timbres that are as descriptively ornamental as Hard Bop comping and as out-and-out swinging as Stride piano patterns. Succeeding a penultimate variation that unites string-friction stops with a waterfall of ringing allegro patterns, Abrams end the recital with double-handed key smacks and echoes melding higher and lower pitches into unexpected rhythmic resonation. This climax-cum-resolution confirms his talents.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 13 #4