Jazz CD Reviews
Rick Cutler, solo piano – First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch – New Dude
Published on December 17, 2010
Rick Cutler, solo piano – First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch – New Dude NDR-102, 62:34 [Release date: Jan. 4, 2011] ***:
Although First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch is Rick Cutler’s second solo piano release, he may be best known as a percussionist/drummer, theme composer and sideman: he has worked with Liza Minnelli, Gregory Hines and written for television, film and on Broadway.
However, as evidenced by this and other recordings, Cutler is a flexible artist. This 62-minute collection draws on influences such as Chick Corea – whom Cutler studied with – Keith Jarrett, Debussy and even fellow drummer Tony Williams.
For the most part Cutler’s original material – he wrote all 18 tracks presented here – moves slowly in a late evening blue-mood that has a rural, pastoral and nocturnal disposition. “Charlotte’s Roads Before Her,” for example, has a folkish demeanor that evokes Aaron Copland’s Americana as well as George Winston’s landscape-oriented characteristics. This and many other pieces are evocative of other artists who have made significant impacts on Cutler’s composing and performing style.
“Debussy” is of course dedicated to Claude Debussy, whose ideas on symbolism are a notable inspiration: this five-minute cut shares Debussy’s reflective and sensory work and his use of single or simple keys or pitches. A much briefer but similarly-shaded creation, “Noise (For Tony Williams),” honors the iconic drummer who was one of Cutler’s early musical heroes. Praise is also given to jazz violinist Noel Pointer during “Song for Noel,” a methodically poignant piece that blends optimism with loss. “Thank You (For McCoy Tyner)” is yet another commendation to a musical idol, where Cutler does not replicate Tyner’s tone or sensibility but rather offers an impressionistic sensitivity that alludes to Tyner’s literate personality.
The darkest compositions form a three-part “Alien Landscape” suite that merges Cutler’s suggestive, minor-key improvisations with echoing wind. Each shortened section is spread amongst the other tunes: Cutler unassumingly rephrases the same brooding theme on each component, which provides both a positive thematic connection but also a negative indication of repetition.
“Dance” is the most rhythmically involved performance and seems the closest in spirit to Jarrett’s modern creative muse, although definitely not nearly as breathtaking and ambitious. On “A Song You’ve Heard Before” Cutler mirrors the melodic sketches Corea recorded on his early seventies piano improvisation releases.
First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch may best appeal to a crossover audience who enjoy Keith Jarrett’s less esoteric moments as well as George Winston’s instrumental popular music. Others might find Cutler’s tranquil chord changes as well as his pretty and intimate melodies a bit uninspired. It is really a matter of taste.
1. Isle of Words Forgotten
2. Gentle Nightmare
3. Charlotte’s Roads Before Her
4. Alien Landscape 1
6. From Then Till Now
7. Measuring Eternity
8. Noise (For Tony Williams)
9. Alien Landscape 2
10. Song for Noel
11. Indian Sunset
12. A Dance
14. Thank You (For McCoy Tyner)
15. Alien Landscape 3
16. Who Needs Words
17. A Song You’ve Heard Before
18. Going Home
— Doug Simpson