Jan 29, 2011

Taylor Eigsti: Daylight at Midnight

"Eigsti is often content to keep his technical prowess in check, playing in service not to showmanship or ego but to the demands of the music."

Label: Concord
Personnel: Taylor Eigsti, piano/Harish Raghavan, bass/Eric Harland, drums/Becca Stevens, vocals
Genre: moody, contemplative jazz
Recommended for: everyone
New York-based pianist Taylor Eigsti was the definition of a child prodigy: He started playing at age 4, and by the ripe old age of 12 was opening for Diana Krall and Al Jarreau. Now he's matured into something of a phenomenon. Though still only in his 20s he's already racked up a slew of albums and Grammy nominations, and played with the likes of Dave Brubeck, Christian McBride and Joshua Redman. With Eigsti's latest effort, "Daylight at Midnight," it's easy to see why he's garnered so much acclaim so fast. 

The album, which features Harish Raghavan on bass and Eric Harland on drums, is a combination of Eigsti originals and covers of moody compositions by groups and artists like Coldplay, Feist, Nick Drake and Elliot Smith. Things get started with the ominous chords of Coldplay's "Daylight." Eigsti states the melody in a simple, unadorned style, emphasizing the tension inherent in the piece. It's only when the group is halfway through the tune that he really lets loose with a solo of glistening, perfectly articulated arpeggios. Two things are clear at this point: Eigsti has been influenced by Art Tatum, and he's got the chops to do the great man proud. 

But what's striking about this album is the way Eigsti is often content to keep his technical prowess in check, playing in service not to showmanship or ego but to the demands of the music. On the album's very next tune - "Magnolia," penned by Eigsti and singer Becca Stevens - Eigsti is a more-than able accompanist to Stevens' vocals, and while he takes a brief solo the emphasis is on the tune and the interplay between the musicians. It's a brave choice for a young pianist, one that signals a confidence and musicality that's refreshing. 

Indeed, the entire CD represents an interesting direction for Eigsti; it would have been easy for him to turn out a crowd-pleasing album of jazz standards, full of bluesy influences and showy solos. Instead, the vibe on "Daylight at Midnight" is mostly muted, contemplative and even a little experimental (Eigsti nudges jazz boundaries by incorporating Mellotron samples on several cuts.)  

But jazz geeks can relax: On Mutemath's "Chaos" Eigsti and his bandmates push the pedal to the metal in a brief but smoking jam session that shows they can cook with the best of them. And as Eigsti says in the album's liner notes, he's got his whole life to play standards. Whatever he plays, I for one will be listening. 

-Tony Rogers

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