Aaron Diehl – The Vagabond
(Mack Avenue MAC 1153. CD by Peter Jones)
The sheer class of American pianist Aaron Diehl has been recognised over here ever since the singer Cécile McLorin Salvant began visiting the UK. The band on this wonderful new trio album, his fifth, is also Cécile’s band, with the exception of drummer Lawrence Leathers, who died last June at the tragically young age of 37. Replacing him here is the more than able Gregory Hutchinson. On bass is Paul Sikivie.
The quality of Diehl as a pianist is matched by his skill as a composer: he is the writer of the first seven tunes on this 11-track CD. Still only 34, his signature style is serene, contained and precise. From a jazz perspective, he has a ‘classical’ sound. Included on The Vagabond alongside his own compositions are pieces by Prokoviev and Philip Glass. And at an age when many jazz musicians are preoccupied with showing off their chops, Diehl already knows he doesn’t need to. In fact he has been compared with Mendelssohn and Schubert, among others. He has perfect control, creating subtle dynamics and sounding every note cleanly whatever the tempo.
The album is a collection of chamber pieces; in most cases, Diehl plays with calm introspection. Take his composition Treasure’s Past (the apostrophe is his), which proceeds with quiet authority and the cadences of a nineteenth-century hymn tune, as Sikivie plays Bach-like counterpoint. The sevenths, ninths and flatted or augmented fifths fundamental to modern jazz harmony are absent, and it’s this use of straight major and minor chords that lends the music its distinctive flavour. John Lewis’s Milano and Diehl’s own Lamia are other examples of this. Conversely, the rendition of Prokofiev’s March from Ten Pieces for Piano Op.12 is more like a modern jazz piece than the new material, its fast tempo and jerky rhythms posing a considerable challenge to anyone planning to march to it. But Roland Hanna’s lovely A Story Often Told, Seldom Heard is more typical.
Diehl’s own tunes possess the rare quality of sounding like songs you’ve known for a long time. This is true of two Bill Evans-like numbers: the insouciant opener Polaris, a carefree swing tune, and Magnanimous Disguise, its twinkling flourishes recalling Evans’s brisker repertoire.
The Vagabond is an album you can really dig into. The more I hear it, the more I like it. (By the way, in case you were wondering how to pronounce Aaron Diehl’s name, the clue is in his publishing company Real Diehl Music.)
Categories: CD review