Friday, August 27, 2010

Staff Picks: Julian Waterfall Pollack - Infinite Playground

All week, we'll be posting reviews of 10 new CDs just added to the AccuJazz Staff Picks channel. You can keep tabs on all the reviews as they come out here.

9) Julian Waterfall Pollack - Infinite Playground (Junebeat)

As a jazz radio program director, I'm on the receiving end of a pretty huge amount of new music. When I get an email from an artist representing him or herself, I'm not always in a big rush to get their CD on the air, as there's already a steady stream of new music coming through. But when I got an email from 22-year-old pianist Julian Pollack, it only took me a few seconds of listening to sell me on getting his music on the air as soon as possible.

Something of a wunderkind, Pollack's bio is bursting at the seams with impressive associations and accomplishments: he appeared on Piano Jazz when he was only 18, his trio opened for Chick Corea at the Blue Note earlier this year, and, well, he just put out an immensely satisfying album called Infinite Playground. Clearly influenced by predecessors Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau, Pollack manages to avoid sounding like an impostor or an overly technical child prodigy. He's a fully-developed jazz pianist with a distinct voice.

Pollack and his trio open the album with a clever arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime," taking one of the most overplayed tunes of all time and making it sound fresh, from plaintive start to abrupt finish. The 7 against 3 polyrhythm in the second half of the head is like rhythm porn for drum nerds like me. The disc is about half and half covers and originals, and Pollack turns out to be as promising a composer as he is a pianist and arranger. Among the originals, "Lily" is a spacious and gorgeous ballad, infused with just enough blues among the prevailing prettiness. "Blackberry," a funky odd-time groover, is the aesthetic opposite, with an impressionistic piano melody layered over a knotty bass line, and even a little hint of electronica at the very end.

Throughout Infinite Playground, Pollack and his trio mates, bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Evan Hughes, keep things interesting, never engaging in the virtuosity-for-virtuosity's-sake grandstanding that plagues many young and ably-equipped jazz groups. Yes, they play Cherokee, that ultimate test of jam session virility, but they treat it tenderly, starting out in a spacious half-time groove, and never muddying up the time even when they're swinging at full speed. Making Cherokee sound effortless, now that's maturity.

Listen to the Staff Picks channel here

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