martes, abril 16, 2024
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Aaron Diehl: Before & After

“My overall goal is trying to figure out how to connect the languages of jazz and classical to make an interesting and engaging performance, and also develop my own voice,” Aaron Diehl told me when I first wrote about him in 2010. “Why limit yourself to just playing something here and something there? It’s all gold.”

That the 37-year-old pianist has refined and expanded that statement of purpose is evident on three recent albums—as leader on The Vagabond, from 2020 (Diehl’s third for Mack Avenue), and as sideman on fellow pan-genre explorer Tyshawn Sorey’s expansively abstract-to-consonant 2022 releases Mesmerism (Yeros7) and The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism (Pi). As Diehl remarked on Zoom from his Harlem apartment before listening to the 11 selections that comprise his first Before & After: “I’m interested the jazz language as a continuum—threading together its evolution as a continual, interrelated stream of development to create a sound that’s neither old or new, but simply a landscape where we can all communicate.”

Joined on The Vagabond by bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Greg Hutchinson, Diehl opens the recital with seven originals that refract and interrogate raw materials harvested from an expansive field of influence: a Bach-to-Ravel notion of the Euro-canon, church hymns, stride, bebop, the blues. He ends it with idiomatically apropos interpretations of repertoire by role models John Lewis and Roland Hanna, and—foreshadowing his engagement with Sorey—a frisky deconstruction of Prokofiev’s “March from Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 12,” followed by a meditative turn through Philip Glass’ minimalist “Piano Etude No. 16.”

Diehl entered Glass’ musical world in 2014, when the composer invited him to participate in a Brooklyn Academy of Music concert comprising all 20 of his piano etudes. “Many times I had doubts about whether my interest in this music was valid,” Diehl says of this early foray into transidiomatic expression. “A mentor even asked why I’m trying to play classical music, why I’m not with the soldiers of jazz. Well, I love jazz. But everything that I do is influenced by and incorporates all of my interests in music; it doesn’t have to be restricted to a specific approach or style or genre or idiom.”

He adds that interacting with Sorey has “solidified” this predisposition. “Tyshawn has been a revelation,” Diehl says. “He does so many different things on an extremely high level: serial music, 12-tone. His capacity for music, the things he understands and knows, is endless. His mind works in unique ways. For me, the goal is to play any written material and impart such an organic feeling that it sounds improvised, and to improvise music with a structure, a form, and a sense of direction that it sounds written. When I hear Tyshawn play—when I hear all of his pieces—I hear that. I feel the greatest musicians, whether Bach or Charlie Parker, did that at the highest level.”

Something close to what Diehl describes transpires on Mesmerism, an in-studio trio date with Matt Brewer recorded in spring 2021. “Tyshawn called and said, ‘I want to do a trio record with you and Matt,’” Diehl recalls. “Can we rehearse a day before the recording?’ I said, ‘I want to be prepared.’ He said, ‘That’s okay. We’ll just play tunes.’ He came by my place with Matt, and started to dictate arrangements of ‘Autumn Leaves’ and tunes by Paul Motian and Muhal Richard Abrams:    ‘We’ll play the first eight twice and then the B is half time, and then the last eight is double time,’ and so on. I spent half the night trying to make sure I had the right roadmap for the recording next morning. I thought Tyshawn did that on purpose. He knows me well enough now to know that I like to have a handle on things, and his whole approach was, ‘No, we’re just going to listen to each other. We have our structure, and we’ll see what happens.’

“Many musicians have varied interests, but people tend to want to pigeonhole them into doing a certain thing and that’s it. The key—and the hard part—is how you incorporate all your interests into an organic entity.”

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs in this Before & After:

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