Recording of the Week,
Jon Batiste - Anatomy of Angels
Pianist Jon Batiste is known to the wider public as the leader of the house band on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’, where for the past five years his tongue-in-cheek piano embellishments have accompanied many a Stephen Colbert punchline. What many viewers probably don’t appreciate is that Batiste is a well-respected jazz artist in his own right, and ‘Stay Human’, the show’s house band, is his own group, formed back in 2005 when Batiste was just 19 with drummer Joe Saylor and bassist Phil Kuehn. That original trio forms the core for Anatomy of Angels, and on this new album Batiste brings the same humour and energy as he does on the Late Show to the pure jazz piano trio setting.
Hailing from Louisiana, Jon Batiste is part of a family tree that reaches far back into New Orleans musical history, so beyond having perfected a seemingly effortless piano technique, he can also tap into a deep knowledge of jazz and blues akin to that of someone like Wynton Marsalis, albeit with a lighter touch and more mischievous sense of humour. This new album is a good chance to experience Batiste in the flesh, letting loose on a varied programme and managing to keep us guessing as to his next move.
The opening track Creative is a microcosm of Batiste’s style, kicking off with a catchy, jagged piano riff channelling his idol, Thelonious Monk. The group quickly proceed to transform the material through numerous sections of contrasting moods and styles, before the piano finally malfunctions with some off-the-cuff Cecil Taylorisms leading to an abrupt end. It’s a thrilling start to the record, but all performed with taste and restraint, making this an easy album to enjoy. Another Batiste original Dusk Train to Doha follows, displaying Batiste’s often knotty approach to melody, at times building tension by working against the rhythm section before melting into the flow. Rachel Price guests on The Very Thought of You, a duo with Batiste, and her easy-going voice reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy, giving the middle section a moment of calm. Monk’s ’Round Midnight gets a more muscular, dynamic reading than usual from the band, joined by Patrick Bartley and Tivon Pennicott on reeds and Giveton Gelin and Jon Lampley on trumpets, all of whom remain on stage for Batiste’s Anatomy of Angels, the record’s most challenging track. A spooky, three-minute prelude from Batiste leads into a laid-back groove that then proceeds to be stress-tested by the band, building naturally to an impassioned peak, before the clouds disperse. This is a short and focused collection taken from a five-night residency, so there must be more for us to hear, especially if the results are anything like as exciting as the jazz on display here.