Andrew McCormack – First Light
(Edition Records EDN1052. CD review by Mike Collins)
The gifts of pianist Andrew McCormack will be very familiar to UK audiences. He first came to wider attention as part of Denys Baptiste’s group on their 1999 Mecury Prize nominated album Be where Are You. Since then he’s worked with a host of other great players including former Art Blakey sideman Jean Toussaint and in a widely acclaimed duo with Jason Yarde.
First Light, a follow up to 2012 release Live in London on Edition, is his first as a leader since moving to New York. The acoustic piano trio set of mainly McCormack originals was recorded at the legendary Systems Two studio with fellow NYC residents Canadian Zack Lober on bass and Colin Stranahan, who has worked with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Herbie Hancock, on drums.
McCormack’s writing and playing subtly fuses all sorts of references. Arresting, rhythmically stated chords linked by simple perky phrases launch the opener Prospect Park; harmonically there is just a country or folk-ish edge to them, but then a bustling, broken swing bursts through. Lober and Stranahan are perfect partners for McCormack’s light, dancing but rhythmically assertive touch at the piano. They needle and swirl around, lock in with little off kilter phrases then settle down and really groove. It’s a great unit.
A distinct and engaging personality shines through this music that draws on the full history of bop inspired jazz. A strong melodic sense and quietly emotional, even romantic thread is ever present, whether it’s the sizzling swing and stop-start post-boppish riffs of Reluctant Gift, the elegant flowing arpeggios of Gotham Soul or the gorgeous ebb and flow of First Light. The title track is a stand out, moving from a whisperingly quiet, march like statement of the theme into an urgent, rocking groove the piano spiralling off into flowing, overlapping lines and then returning to the slow, singing theme to close. The leader is at his most contemplative and abstract on the solo piece Faith Remembered and the set concludes with Monk’s Pannonica, delivered with a jaunty swing and inventive soloing and interplay all around.
This is an assured and absorbing album, a calling card for a top class trio.