Studio N 06
Pianist David Arnay’s newest release is driven by a premise. With each track, another band mate is added until the album concludes with an octet. There are inherent limitations to this concept. Are better ensemble tracks forfeited in order to keep up the theme? Are musicians added to tunes just for the sake of a headcount? The cutting room floor material will have to wait for another release as Arnay leads his expanding crew through a largely self-penned, straight-ahead set that pleasantly glides along the simple theme.
Arnay opens the album with a swinging solo rendition of the Ellington standard “Caravan,” establishing his piano as the guiding voice throughout the record. There is certainly space for others though as bassist Edwin Livingston gets in a crisp solo on Arnay’s “11/12/11” and saxophonist Doug Webb asserts himself nicely with his introduction on “Step Four.” For more than half of the album, drummer Peter Erskine is a reliable presence but the band’s might does not expand with each added member.
A frictionless rendition of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with Arnay doubling on piano and synthesizers features an engaging soprano saxophone solo from Webb but feels a little too smooth and removed from the mood established by the rest of the album. A bag of hand percussion employed by Munyungo Jackson does not help. In general, “Giant Steps” should not be paired with chimes.
The band returns to form for the last two tunes, filling out the ensemble with three horns and guitarist Paco Loco. The upbeat “Six of One” churns under Erskine’s drive and pitter-patter solo while closer “Dream Groove” lets the horns play off each other. If the ensemble had stopped at four members, it would have been a more welcoming offering but that concept would have resulted in a considerably shorter album.
8: Caravan; 11/12/11; Billville; Step Four; Old Man Says; Giant Steps; Six of One; Dream Groove. (38’00)
Personnel: David Arnay, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Paco Loco, guitar; Dan Fornero, trumpet; Vikram Devasthali, trombone.
Ordering info: www.davidarnay.com