By Robert Ham | Published June 2019
The heart of Rich Pellegrin’s new album is its title track. The pianist hands the music over first to just his regular ensemble, a limber quintet that caresses the smooth curves and supple give of the tune’s wintry melody. They interrupt the flow of the song with a gentle rudeness; tenor saxophonist Neil Welch playing with percussive plosives and drummer Christopher Icasiano tumbling in the background with brushes and light cymbal hits. Later, Pellegrin introduces members of the Mizzou New Music Ensemble into the fold, its presence stiffening things up considerably. The sleekness and allure is still there, but the ghostly string parts and percussion slaps lend the song a rigidity it doesn’t need.
The rest of Down rests somewhere in the middle of those two approaches. Those mildly opposing forces serve up moments of absolute bliss, like the convulsive solo that bassist Evan Flory-Barnes takes on “Birthright” and the way that opening track “Trial” feels like an early computer coming to life and learning new tasks and procedures as it trundles forward. Through it all, Pellegrin does as the great pianists do, supplying encouragement and graceful touches in the background, before diving forward to take solos that are by turns florid and cracked, balletic and modern.
Down: Trial; Birthright; Down; Acceptance; Exile; Down (Introduction); Down. (53:38)
Personnel: Rich Pellegrin, piano; R. Scott Morning, trumpet; Evan Flory-Barnes, bass; Neil Welch, tenor saxophone; Christopher Icasiano, drums; Mizzou New Music Ensemble (6, 7).