Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Energy and elegance: Billy Childs' "The Wind of Change"

Billy Childs at 1905 in Portland May 4, 2023

I've seen the pianist Billy Childs perform live recently at Portland's 1905 jazz club. He is an elegant musician who is always dressed impeccably and with style and he always brings that same elegance and sophistication to his music. For his Portland gig, Childs brought with him the fiery trumpeter Sean Jones, the bassist Hans Glauswig and the drummer Chris Eumon. More about this at a later date.

BillyChilds with Sean Jones at Portland's 1905 Jazz Club May 4, 2023

I have admired the artist's works over the last several years and his release Rebirth from 2017 was, to my way of thinking, one of the best jazz releases of that year. 

Childs's new releases are always anxiously anticipated, as was his latest The Winds of Changewhich was released in March of 2023. The album is a compilation of seven beautiful and inspired vehicles of expression. They include a hallowed and gorgeous version of the late Chick Corea's haunting "Crystal Silence," "Black Angel," a Kenny Barron composition first heard as Freddie Hubbard's title cut from the 1970 album of the same name and five of Childs' own narrative and cinematically inspired musical compositions. 

The pianist/composer assembled a superbly intuitive group for the recording of this album. The excellent bassist Scott Colley and brilliant colorist Brian Blade on drums set the rhythmic pulse. The trumpet chameleon Ambrose Akinmusire is Childs' main front-line foil and collaborator.  The band on The Winds of Change is emotive, flexible, and possesses a telepathic sensitivity to executing Childs' musical demands and the results are spectacular.

On "Crystal Silence," after a beautifully thought-out piano intro, Childs utilizes Akinmusire's plaintive, slurring trumpet sounds to spell out the familiar melody in an expressive, humanistic way. Bassist Colley offers a moving resonant, deep-toned solo of his own and Blade adds the colors of his soft rhythmic brushes to the mix. There was a lot of reverence in the way Childs et al presents this song, a heartfelt dedication to the past composer.

Childs' ballad "I Thought I Know" was played as a trio. The contemplative melody had a swaying feel with Colley offering a moving bass solo and Blade's tight snare accompaniment setting the mood.  "Masters of the Game" Childs reunites with Akinmusire. The two are excellent foils, with Childs' sensitive, classically inspired pianistic thoughts countered by Akinmusire's fluttery, often slurring accents that add excitement and slight disruption to the beautifully inspired formality of Childs' composition.

"The Black Angel" is a dynamic vehicle to include here. The tune invites comparison of the language differences between how Hubbard once played this with Barron, the composer, on the original, and how Akinmusire interprets Childs' vision of the same composition. Childs chooses a more angular, less lilting, more cadenced approach and the trumpeters have two distinct approaches to how they deliver the melody. Hubbard is brighter, lyrical, more athletically dynamic, and precise- softened by Spalding's flute- and Akinmusire's trumpet feels organic, elastic, and more liquid. Childs' playing is dynamic, gorgeously developed with inherent beauty flowing from within, accented precisely by Colley and Blade's intuitive accompaniment. This one is just an example of how in-tune this band is here.

The album includes the captivating, "The End of Innocence" which could easily be seen as a cinematic score. Childs, a lifetime LA resident, claims to have been inspired by some of the great scorers of film like Michel Legrand and Jerry Goldsmith and you see the link. The music is beautifully played by Childs-inspired story-telling piano and his band. Akinmusire's trumpet lingers on long sustained tones that he slurs and screechers to great effect. His playing has an earthy, primal sense sound and what would be more representative of  what Childs is expressing in his "The Ending of Innocence."

Following in the film noir tract and cinematic approaches to music, Childs composed his "The Great Western Loop" with the scenery it evokes in mind. At the Portland gig, Childs spoke of this Pacific Northwest trail several hundred miles long that inspired this song. With a staccato intro, Childs' piano fills the room with a sense of urgency. The group then plays a synchronic serpentine line in unison that demands precision and is executed with razor sharpness. His piano serves up copious lines that flow out of him like an eruption of spring-fed ideas. Blade is particularly propulsive during the statements of repeated lines in unison. The colorful drummer is perhaps the present-day Monet of the era on his kit. 

The album ends with the title cut "The Winds of Change." In my mind, this is the jewel of the album. Childs related that the tune was originally written for the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove and an orchestra. The film influence here seems strongest. I am reminded of Michel LeGrand's work on the theme of The Thomas Crown Affair or perhaps Jerry  Goldmsith's work on the theme to Chinatown that featured Uan Rasey's celebrated trumpet work. Memorable movie music has been permanently tattooed into our cerebellum and rightfully so!

Childs' playing can be so elegant, emotive, and resplendent. The music is a feast of sounds and emotions and I am particularly drawn to the tumultuous tom work by Blade at several apex moments, Akinmusire's superbly emotive trumpet work, Colley's buoyant bass, and Childs' superlative piano and compositional work here. If you are drawn to the majesty that film score work can bring to you, this one is just breathtaking!

Billy Child' The Winds of Change is clearly one of this year's best albums.

No comments:

Post a Comment